Published in Fencepost: East Kern County January 2016. www.fencepostpaper.com
We're new to the area with a get-a-way house in your area. Young grandchildren and a long drive to another rural retreat made us look closer to our Ventura County home for a spot to escape to – – I mean, we wanted to be closer to the grandchildren rather than escape from them.
We like to think you might anticipate what a place should look and feel like from its name. We're still looking for that lake you keep talking about and the locale of a weird watery creature called a bodfish.
But there are plenty of place names that do describe the setting. One soon learns there is a Basin and a Pass, both named after Mr. Walker. There are places named Heights, Valleys, Meadows, Canyons, and a two-part River with Forks. Where some Bears and Stallions rove give names to Springs, while Ridgecrest has to be the sharp top of a mountain. A little Spanish reveals we will find tablelands, high mountains, and hot places. Silver and onyx mark other spots, as do paired oak trees. Early native places get located by names in their native tongues – – Mojave, Piute, Nuui Cunni, and Tubatulabal.
But we’re having trouble telling folks out of the area where we escape to. We've been saying “desert” and that's what very hot and dry feel like to us coastal huggers. But we've been told the desert really begins east of the valley-- high and then lower desert as you careen down Walker pass.
A devoted resident calls our area “Alpine Desert,” though others insist he's wrong on both counts. And I may have wasted a few dollars buying a field guide to the California chaparral in order to identify this place, since some variety of it grows nearly everywhere on the vast uplands of our state.
To add some unneeded dignity to the place, a sometime neighbor labels it “Upper Weldon Heights.” Another says “high country” but that evokes movieland habitats where you might find Clint Eastwood drifting about.
Getting technical about our biome (environmental niche) hardly helps – – the “oak-pine-juniper” nomenclature doesn't tell you where that trio of trees might be found, and worse, I’m told five different biomes converge here, which may be source of our naming quandary.
So what to call it? Well, what does it look like?
From our boulder-strewn parcel, I see the tailing end of the Sierras knifing south, edging the valley, with sensuously rounded foothills up thrust and humped in all directions. Though I'd like to specify that we’re on something of a tilted alluvial plateau, that detail can complicate the picture.
So, I now tell folks back home, though some here still insist we’re near a lake, come and visit us in the southern sierra foothills.