Reaching nowhere

25 December 2011, from To the levee

Highway 12 criss-crosses clumps of land, once islands, seem at odd to the inherent shape here of the land.

I turn off a small dirt road, walk down, photograph ditch, field, grass. Two pickups loaded with ATVs pause where the dirt road meets the highway. Hunters. One, garrulous and a little nervous, talks to me, tells me how he nearly rolled his truck in the fog this morning, trying to make the turn-off to the hunting club. Then, to top it off, he’d driven his ATV, loaded with guns & dog, into a a coyote den. He spreads his arms wide, showing the size, compares it to about the size of a California hot tub.

Palm trees rise incongruously out of the fog.

Roads bulge and buckle along the levees, look like they will slide off into the water, like black frosting.

I’m surprised by the degree of trust assumed here among the citizens of the Delta. Wallets left on the bar while a game of pool is played; trucks left running while a little walk is taken over the hill.

Houses and towns spill down the hills from the levees, both for access, and safety from floods?

For lunch I stop along the levee road in Happy Harbor, broadly proclaimed in rather sad lettering coming out of the gloom. The rest of the place looks no better: derelict houseboats anchor in the decaying and overgrown marina, a dingy lies along the road as if dropped from the sky, its interior filled with old floats and other river junk. The restaurant/bar is blaring a football game, and three menu play a raucous game of pool. Each man has a bottle of beer; it’s shortly before noon. But they men are pleasant enough, comfortable, barking in that way that men do in bars. They smile, then generally ignore me. Upon recommendation from the waitress, I order a burger, which she then goes to cook in the kitchen. She’s the only one working here, apparently. It’s quiet on this foggy Wednesday in mid-December. The joint livens up over the weekend, she says, with karaoke, and then really springs to life in the summer, when plenty of city folk from San Francisco and Sacramento come out to play in the mild waters of the Delta.

I watch the football game, ignorantly as usual, and tally up the many objects lying around the bar back, the kind of which one tends to see in bars like this: display bottles of beer and liquor, photos of the regulars, and dollar bills inscrutably labeled with Sharpie-inked initials, push-pinned to the wall.

The most jovial of the pool players tells me a somewhat confusing story of how he broke his neck, and now plays pool with a custom cue shortened to two-thirds its former length; with that, he can beat any man, he claims. He emphasizes this to his friend, who confirms with a whispy grunt from somewhere outside, where he’s gone for a post-game smoke.

In the south, a huge wind farm [Solano]. Above old undulating fields, strewn now with ancient rusting farm machinery and decaying fencing. Hundreds of masts hold huge blades, spinning slightly in the still afternoon air. Horizons in every direction are broken by these weird beasts, static dendrites of white-painted steel, turning the peaceful hills into a somewhat sinister, skeletal, gleaming forest. The windmills that are turning emit a low buzzing hum, breaking the quiet. A few flocks of sheep run here and there, the lambs bleating under the towers.

Along the edge of Suisun City, a sprawling mess of typical retail chains and malls. I head out to Grizzly Island, after a random stab at the screen of the GPS. I skirt Suisun Marsh (stated as the largest in the world), across stubbled cow-munched hills, and cross the high and spindly bridge to the island.

The random point is a perfect nowhere. A mile down a gravel road, past a hunting lodge and over innumerable irrigation creeks. The only sounds are the whistling of a few birds, chipping in the weeds. These are even fields, just marsh, peat bogs, wasteland. Telephone poles stretch across the sky, fenceposts beat an oscillating visual rhythm along the road. In the distance, mountains, and the now-tiny trunks of the towers of the wind farm. As I arrive at my point, even the birds grow silent. A few pops of a shotgun echo from somewhere far to the north.