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On Glaciers, Cities and Edges Across California


Reading "Deepest Valley: A Guide to Owens Valley, Its Roadsides and Mountain Trails" on a recent trip up the 395 to Mammoth brought an avalanche of memories about the edges of town I've lived in.

The book has plenty about golden trout, house finches and fault scarps. More important to me though, is the book's overarching narrative about how the natural environment still has the upper hand there. People still live on the edges of nature in the valley.

As a kid I lived on the edge of a cliff in Tijuana's Colonia Aleman from which (this was the mid 1970s) you could see the nightly helicopter sweeps over the San Diego-Tijuana border and groups of people running to cross. I lived on the edge of Latin America.

Lone Pine

In the early 1980s we'd visit my late uncle Miguel who lived in the southwest part of Mexico City called Cerro del Judio, Jew's Hill. His cinder block house was just about 50 yards away from rows of adolescent July corn that drank up the summer rains. At night I'd crane my neck up and see the shooting stars through the touchable eight thousand foot ceiling of the city. That was very much an edge between the favelas and the countryside.

About 12 years ago I lived where Arcadia and Sierra Madre rub shoulders in the San Gabriel Mountain foothills. I'd take walks in the morning and during one soggy winter walk a young deer ballet-walked on the asphalt streets. At this edge the ranch house developments had the upper hand as they moved glacier-like as far up the foothills as far as a city council green light would let them.

The extinct cinder cones on either side of the 395 in the Owens Valley are a reminder of the region's violent past, and that in the long run, whether it matters in our short life or not, the house always wins.

Poet and KPCC Reporter Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes his column Movie Miento every week on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. It is a poetic exploration of Los Angeles history, Latino culture and the overall sense of place, darting across LA's physical and psychic borders.

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