The only thing better than owning a fabulous home in the countryside, to paraphrase Wise Johnny, is being friends with someone with a fabulous house in the country. Or in my case, friends of friends, or friend of Johnny, who generously wrangled an invitation for us to live as 1%-ers for a week, in the mountains above Santa Cruz.
If one wanted to obtain a sense of being in the world but not of it, a Berchtesgaden between Silicon Valley and the Pacific was the place do it, taking morning coffee on a veranda overlooking treetops stair-stepping to the ocean, fog dissipating under your gaze.
The Fall of Kabul and the Great ReMaskening were very far from our concerns this week. It’s an easy state of consciousness to ease into here. A feature, not a bug, of hot tubbing under the stars.
Heading north is always a little bittersweet, balancing the kindness of how I am treated by wealthier friends while knowing I can no longer afford to live in the stomping grounds of my youth, the accessibility I once took for granted.
My parents took to nature in 1973, bearing not oodles of cash, but tomes. Walden. Summerhill. The Foxfire Manual. The Whole Earth Catalog. Rural California, even the most desirable precincts, was abundant and cheap. $18000 for 80 acres of rolling meadowlands and timber, with views. Split three ways. Settled over a handshake and a joint. They were unemployed and living on food stamps, I kid not. A swimming pool was not part of the equation. Nor was electricity, or a running motor vehicle.
One need not have been rich to own a glorious sliver of coastal California then, just two nickels to rub together and the moxie to leave Wisconsin.
Preserving generational advantage has defined the 1973 People ever since. Slow growth legislation. No growth. CEQA. Nimby, thy name is Boomer.
Rural property is now very expensive and the province of people blessed with liquid grace. Tech people principally, happy to re-create Palo Alto in the woods, a weekend retreat/Zoom castle with luxury amenities to wait out the pandemic or Antifa/BLM riots, or simply make a top drawer income without the friction of proximity to others. If everything really goes to hell, there is plenty of room to lay in provisions for a siege, and who can blame wealthy Gen-Xers who paid serious money to obtain this?
It’s also –sssh- rather White up here. Living in L.A. for twenty years one forgets just how demographically different the host region of the people really running the show in California is from the rest of the state.
Driving home, basking in the afterglow of generosity extended to me by a blameless couple I never met, my dark literary nature reasserted itself: how beautiful America is, yet how despairing, how far from the requirements of a functioning country. Enforceable borders. A sound currency. A common language. Foundational protections of speech, assembly, redress. Means of production over consumer goods. An elite that believes in America’s creedal ethos and founding documents. Incorruptible or at least high-functioning institutions. A willingness to reproduce among the native-born.
All of these things are in question at present. I’m not sure how we can come back from the declination we have set in motion. In the meantime we backslide into a tribalism that is nominally about identity but will be enforced ruthlessly by wealth. Prediction: white areas, including the most remote and undesirable, will become unaffordable in the coming chaos. Rare is the person who practices the inclusivity he preaches.
Would John Steinbeck recognize California today? Much of the Salinas Valley would be unchanged, food producing, poor people bent over at the waist in the sun. Different people now, half of them from other countries, with the new element of vineyards, which he would appreciate. Americans being paid by the government to stay idle at home while replacements were bussed across the border would confound him. As would the wealth effect around Monterey Bay. Few of his characters, including the prosperous ones, could live today where he placed them in his books. Los Gatos, where he had his summer house, would be a foreign land. The vast de-personing apparatus erected by graduates of Stanford might put him in a revolutionary frame of mind.
He might retreat to the reassurance of the redwoods and take solace in the knowledge the forest will outlast our foolishness. The trees are playing the long game, while we enjoy the shade.