The smell of dust.

About five this morning three things happened. I woke up in my sister’s house, which lies in the neighborhood of my childhood, along one of the thousand plain, unlined roads that make rectangular grid lines of themselves through the orange groves.

A mockingbird began to run through his upbeat repertoire outside my window. I was surprised at this, because I never heard them as a child. I wondered which local species he was imitating at the coolest moment of the day, 73 degrees. He didn’t sing for long.

About the same time that I saw on the forecast the prediction of 108 degrees today, I heard the whole house fan come on and start blowing all the previous day’s residual hot air out of the attic and all the rooms. In the summer my brother-in-law turns it on as soon as the outdoor temperature becomes cooler than that under the roof. It really lessens the need to use the air conditioner.

But tomorrow morning there will not be enough cooling off to work this system. While I was driving away in my air conditioned Subaru and toward a more coastal destination, the Central Valley was turning into a furnace. Most of the next ten days over 100 and four of them above 110. 

As I lingered with my brother’s family over dinner last night, we talked about various people we knew who were leaving California for one reason or another. Somebody’s mother had moved here years before from Missouri but had to go back, because she was always sickly in California. Was it the dust? Everyone around the table agreed that the dust can be oppressive.

After dinner we went outside where the children ran on the lawn, and I admired the way the succulents thrive at my brother’s place, in the heat, yes, but under the shade and frost protection of the patio roof. Certain plants love the climate, and of course that dust blows off the fields that are in between plantings such as I saw on my drive in: cantaloupes, tomatoes, corn, alfalfa, cotton…. That Valley dust feeds the nation!

It’s also a component of the air of which I breathe deeply when I visit in the warmer seasons, the scent of my childhood. That air is like a caress, and a tonic, an atmosphere to sink into. The late evenings are the loveliest time to sit out, after the sun has gone down and air has lost its oven-like personality. One wants to stay up for hours recovering from the day’s fierceness, and not go inside where the air may be cool, but it’s artificially so.

At the end of today’s drive, I arrived  in the southern reaches of the state in a place where the ocean influence is felt morning and evening. Windows and doors are open so that soft breezes can blow through my hosts’ house. I picked up granddaughter Annie at the airport, and this weekend we’ll go to her cousin Pat’s wedding in San Diego. 

Today’s photos are all from my brother’s place, which is the house I grew up in. He has made a lot of changes, but it’s all good, and more pleasing every time I visit. Tomorrow, more family to visit, more gardens! Stay tuned…

10 thoughts on “The smell of dust.

  1. Sounds lovely! I spent the first 10 years of my life in California. I remember feeling strange when we moved to Alabama for my dad’s job transfer to see everything so green. And the humidity was something new to me. I was used to a dry desert condition that I just took as normal. Cool evenings with the crickets chirping later gave way to oppressive heat or balmy air and cicadas. I’m sure California has changed a lot in the last 49 years, but I’ll always remember the dry deserty feeling of it. Yes, lots of dust. Playing outside all day in it. Cooling off in our big trash cans, like mini pools. Fun times.

    Glad you’re getting all this family time, Gretchen! You’re so observant and I love how you’ve described everything you’ve seen and felt and smelled. You’ve pulled us into your world. A blessed day to you!


  2. I just finished reading “The Four Winds” by Kristin Hannah in which the people move out of Dust bowl of TX to CA, like John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. I prefer dealing with the heat + sweat, and water to cool me off, but we only had one day at 100 F so far this summer. The humidity here in Ohio makes it difficult, but still this is my favorite time of the year.


  3. What a treat to be with family and attend a wedding. And how special that your brother keeps your childhood home and you can visit there again. Your line “that air is like a caress” brings to mind the feeling I experience when the air is warm and soft and humid, like the jungle we once lived in. It doesn’t happen here on the coast where the air is clear and crisp, even in summer, although our heat dome of a couple of weeks ago was very close. My daughter commented on how it felt like her childhood. Have a most blessed day.


    1. I suppose your trips inland or to Europe take you through zones of various combinations of temperature and humidity. I found that experience really interesting on my trip. The heat at 8200′ is quite different even from that at 4,000′. On my day driving home, it was 106 in the valley and not uncomfortably humid. Now I’m back in my marine-influenced land; yesterday evening I realized that I was kind of chilly and I went out to bake in the sun before it lowered. Weather is fun!


  4. Have a wonderful time with family and friends. A wedding sounds like fun too. Temperatures 100 and over definitely would be hard to endure.


  5. A beautiful travelogue! I don’t envy you all the high temps. Glad they have AC, but like you I don’t like artificial cooling if I can avoid it. When you mentioned the lady moving back to Missouri it made me think of something. I’ve had lots of allergies in my later years. Makes me wonder if we are designed for the spot we were born in. Maybe I would have less sensitivities in my native SE Texas? Just a weird little thought that has crossed my mind over the years. Enjoy your travels! 🙂


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