How am I to interact with the Owens Valley? How am I, as an environmentally conscious landscape architecture student, who enjoys history, values social justice, and sees problems as a source of inspiration for my work, supposed to conceive of it? As a memorial to past injustices; injustices to the Paiute by the settlers and government, injustice to the ranchers by the city of LA, injustice to the children sick with respiratory illnesses from the dust storms? Or should I think of it as a blank canvas, awaiting a landscape architectural masterpiece, awaiting some brilliant designer to come solve its problems? Should I see it as the price of progress? A sparsely inhabited landscape overtaken by a much larger city?
My last full day of the trip I drove up into the Sierras. I told myself I needed some alone time, and that I wanted to see the mountains up close. Both were true. But there was a far more selfish drive that took me up those peaks: escapism. I needed a break from the valley. I wanted to escape the moral dilemmas, the cynicism, the anger in peoples’ faces, the indignation in their voices. The place stands as a constant reminder to all of it; the abandoned buildings waiting to be torn down, the barren landscapes that were once lush meadows, the dry Paiute irrigation canals. Only the mountains looked clean.
I took a breath of the freezing mountain air and looked down on all of it. Deer rustled through the manzanita, pausing to figure me out. I wanted badly to keep going, further and higher into the mountains. I thought about my gas gauge, which rested slightly over E. I thought about the chill in the air, and the fact that I hadn’t seen a single other car on the road. I looked down at my useless cell phone, receptionless since leaving the valley. Then I pulled the car into neutral and began my slow descent down the mountain. “If I run out of gas I could die out here.” And that was the thought that sent me back down into the valley.