Old Bones

So I grew up in the Valley, hearing stories from my father about what the area was like when he was a kid, hearing him relate to me tales told to him by his father, and looking at gritty sepia images (check out my great-aunt Mary at her high school graduation! Crazy! And here’s my great-grampa on the left and, I think, his brother, in 1913, possibly during their work on the Orcutt Ranch) of my own great-grandfather in what was then the town of Owensmouth (now Canoga Park), standing against an expansive background of nothing but sky and earth, or beside one of the many homes and buildings he built (among them the Owensmouth train station and a Tyrolian-style “castle” on Owensmouth Street). One of the defining features of the early Valley were its lines of eucalyptus windbreaks, marching gracefully across the citrus and beanfields, demarcating property lines, clustering where the farmhouses nestled, making roads visible from great distances.
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The fields are gone and many of the roads have been erased by new, more efficient freeways and highways, but the trees are still there. I love to find the old property lines, possibly matching one suburban tract development for a few blocks, then dissappearing, then reappearing several blocks down; or guessing at where a farmhouse once stood by searching for groves of the trees. They march right up the coast into Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. Some folks say they were first planted at Shadow Ranch in the west valley; others claim they got their start up the coast. Wherever they were first planted, I don’t care; I’m just glad they were, because no matter where I drive in California, a little piece of my home (one that smells green and astringent and spicy) seems to follow me right along the freeway, on the old road, which is now mostly submerged under fallen leaves and the blacktop of the 101.

This photo was taken on my way to Lightning In A Bottle this last weekend, in Camarillo.

5 Replies to “Old Bones”

  1. I enjoy seeing the old pics, and remember before the 101 was a freeway through Camarillo there was a few mile stretch with a stand of those giant Eucalyptus trees.
    The problem with those trees is they are known for sudden limb drops, and are extremely flammable. Neither quality makes them a good landscape tree.

  2. Yep, it’s true. The people who originally planted them apparently–at least, I was told this by the fam–thought they’d be a good source of firewood and wood for homes. But the wood contains a large amount of pitch and is prone to sudden explosions in fires–needs to be dried & seasoned for ages before it’s safe to burn–and it grows in such a “burled,” twisty way, it can’t be used for building either. So, beautiful, but difficult.

  3. Thanks for the memories. I remember the winds
    (particularly the Santa Ana’s) blowing through the remnants of the eucalyptus windbreaks in my backyard on Jordan Avenue in Canoga Park. I think in the picture of your great grampa( my grandpa), he is on the right. He didn’t have any brothers that I know of in America. It might actually be your great uncle Frank, but its hard to tell from the photo and he would have been a mid teenager at the time. Take care.

  4. Thanks for the memories. I remember the winds
    (particularly the Santa Ana’s) blowing through the remnants of the eucalyptus windbreaks in my backyard on Jordan Avenue in Canoga Park. I think in the picture of your great grampa( my grandpa), he is on the right. He didn’t have any brothers that I know of in America. It might actually be your great uncle Frank, but its hard to tell from the photo and he would have been a mid teenager at the time. Take care.

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