March 24, 2018

Atascadero wildflowers
Atascadero wildflowers, Spring 2002 (acrylic on canvas, 24 inches by 32 inches)

With today’s post, One California Girl will have been in existence for one year (almost to the day). I started my California art and stories March 25, 2017, my mother’s birthday. But that particular birthday was the first I had celebrated without her actually being here. And tomorrow I will celebrate her birthday for the second time without being able to wish her a happy birthday. (That may not really be true, I think. I still have half her ashes with me and I say good morning to her every day.) As I said in the beginning I am now the keeper of family stories and the art I chose for this post will always be connected to my mother. But it also has a particular California story, all its own.

I painted this short-lived California profusion of wildflowers, with a background of my beloved oaks, in spring 2002. The flowers you see here are CA poppies, lupines, goldfields and tidy tips. My son’s Great Aunt Ruth took me to this spot because one of her sons had told her of the magnificent flowers. As she and I are the lovers of such weeds, she invited me along to enjoy this amazing scene. I am so thankful I did this piece because soon after we had been there a couple of houses were built right on that very slope. That meant the open area would then be closed to those of us who loved to traipse through such seasonal color. I remember enjoying the fact that the lovely blanket of green weeds in the mid-ground provided such a great field of saturated color next to the crazy blobs of orange, violet, yellow and white paint. If you think about it, it’s just a picture of weeds. It’s just that some have a great responsibility to produce flowers, which will then produce seeds that will hopefully ensure such flowers will somehow live again. And even though they may never bloom in that spot again, there is always the promise of seeds that will blow onto another patch of dirt. I live for such hope and promises.

You are probably wondering how this painting relates to my mother. I’m getting to that…Great Aunt Ruth and my mom are not related, but do share March as their birthday month. I don’t have the canvas anymore, but did take some photos of it, and I used it to make a birthday announcement for my mom for her March 2016 birthday. I put a cute black and white picture of her when she was young on the right side. At the time, of course, I didn’t realize it was to be her last birthday with us in the flesh, but I do enjoy looking at that card these days—with my mom smiling and she’s surrounded by all her spring birthday colors.

And as crazy as it may seem, this particular painting is part of a Paso Robles 2002-2003 story. And here’s how this story goes…After the spring of 2002 I contacted a coffee house in Paso Robles, called Brewed Behavior, to see if they would let me hang some of my art in their establishment. The business hadn’t been there very long and it was in a cute historic red brick building across the street from the city hall, park, and the library. This is when I first used the landscape as an invitation of sorts, except this time it was not to announce my mother’s birthday, but rather to announce an art show the summer of 2002 at Brewed Behavior. I remember selling quite a few paintings, including this one, during the reception and following month the art was there. Fast forward to the summer of 2003. I sold my house and my son and I moved to Grass Valley. But in October of that year a 6.5 earthquake hit the area and two people were killed running out of a building just a few feet around the corner from Brewed Behavior. All the historic brick buildings had big cracks (including this favorite coffee shop) and were later raised. Oh, and directly across from Brewed Behavior, behind the city hall and library, a huge sinkhole opened up. That was really a mess for a number of years because that huge depression in the ground was connected to a hot springs (part of the Paso Robles Inn). And that part of town smelled strong of sulfur until the city engineers figured out how to close it up without diverting all the hot stinky water into the city’s ground water. I didn’t have any art in that building at the time, but I did have quite a few pieces in a winery off Vineyard Drive. A couple of them flew off the wall, crashed to a concrete floor and the frames of those paintings became wracked. (I later had to reframe them because they were too warped to lie flat on the wall.)

And a couple more recent CA earthquakes

If you live in California long enough you will hear such stories as I have described above, or you will be in one yourself. Many LA residents still talk about the 6.7 Northridge quake that occurred in 1994. I wasn’t in that one, but I was around for the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake, and subsequent after shocks along the Hayward fault. Sixty-seven people were killed in that one. The earthquake happened just as the 3rd game of the 1989 World Series in the Bay Area was about to start. I was driving home from work, listening to sports announcers talking on the radio, when my car lurched way over to the right. I thought I had had a flat. I started looking for a place to pull over to the side of the road when my car lurched way over to the left. And I thought to myself, what are the chances I could have two flats at the same time. Then the signal on the radio went to static and I saw the telephone poles along my road home swaying back and forth. I realized I had just been in an earthquake. I grabbed hold of the steering wheel hard and somehow got home. All the people in our Walnut Creek apartment complex were out on the grass, listening to radio. You may or may not know it, but the best place to be in an earthquake is outside, away from anything that can fall on you. When my then husband and I finally decided to go inside our second floor apartment I had just lost a couple of plants that had jumped off the shelves and landed on the carpet. But the later pictures of the Bay Bridge, Nimitz Freeway and some of the houses in San Francisco that had slid off the foundations told quite a story of devastation. Google it if you like. You know, it’s been almost 30 years since that happened and it’s still hard to look at those pictures. There was so much damage.

My dad’s family hadn’t been in California very long when they experienced the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. That one was of a magnitude of 6.4. My dad said he remembered that he went to school in a tent for a couple years, while the city rebuilt all the schools. I think my uncle said he went to kindergarten in the basement of a church. (I need to ask him if that’s right the next time I see him.)

I love that I can suspend a CA moment in time (as I did with this landscape), because a housing development can change it over a few months time. But a natural disaster like an earthquake, a fire, or a mudslide can change parts of our landscape in a matter of minutes. Now, if you’ve read some of my previous California stories I have written a lot about the changes this state has gone through since both sides of my family arrived here in the late 20’s. But if you look at a time line, starting when gold was discovered in 1848, this state has been on a break neck pace of people coming here to change our landscape since before my family arrived. That first change came with huge numbers of “gold seekers” coming to San Francisco by sea from the west and by train from the east. Later, changes came from people, like my dad’s family, who moved here because it was just too cold in Cheyenne. And I think I already mentioned that my mom’s mother came to southern California with her sister and mom and dad to be in the movies. My mom and dad, along with many non-native Californians, moved to the Peninsula (Silicon Valley) because there was amazing opportunity for technology. And most recently others have changed our landscape by planting and expanding huge tracts of vineyards all over the state. It’s become a little tricky to afford to live here anymore. I think those of us who have gone through such natural disasters and changes should be allowed a kind of “get out of jail free” card with a special one time huge discount on a house, or the electric car of our dreams. That’s not going to happen. But I can dream, can’t I?

I miss you mom. Happy Birthday!

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