I was born and grew up in Fresno, California. It is lucky to my heart whenever I get to tell about the place, for I still love it there, and I am proud and always happy to return to my little climatically Mediterranean city at the foot of the great shining Sierra Nevada mountains. It is in the north of Fresno, near Woodward Park beside the San Joaquin River, and down in charming Fig Garden that I most call my neighborhoods of home. You can spend a whole day at the San Joaquin river, swimming or canoeing in simple joy, then walking the neighborhoods nearby the park. In Fig Garden, there are lovely gathering places for coffee and fresh California food, often of Hispanic inspiration, and fine little shops that sparkle at Christmastime.
My grandfather, Robert E. Valett, an educational psychologist and published author, moved our family to Fresno in 1970 when he was offered a professorship at Fresno State University. I was born in 1990, and grew up very close to my grandparents, who were in the Fig Garden neighborhood, in a little Spanish-adobe community called Village Gardens, where many of their friends from the Unitarian Universalist church also lived. I am thankful to have these memories.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get to live in Fresno again, or in other fond towns nearby, but I’m always proud of this inland California region that is different from the high drama and notorious spotlight of the more inhospitable huge coastal cities (I lived in San Francisco for about two and a half years in my early 20s, and never really felt welcome there: the city never truly opened to me as a home). It’s my hope that when people talk about California, they’ll remember that my homeland is huge, with many different regions, greatly differing communities and social values that span the political spectrum.
California truly is large enough, culturally unique enough, and economically robust enough to be its own country, in theory (though I wouldn’t actually want that seriously; we like being American). And even more, I hope that people will understand that California is, to so many like myself, that place of comforting home, family, memory, and refuge from weariness. It is the place that holds those native scents of the land at dawn, sunlight sparkling through the trees in my childhood eyes.
To California natives (in the double meaning of those like myself who were born and raised there, and also the original Indigenous peoples) it is where holy-days were had, and God was first found and loved and delighted in at the sight of a bird rising from a tree-top in the morning sun. It is where the Sierra Nevadas, mother-mountains, watch over our families’ homes and ashes and longings for the comfort of the land, our temple and first pilgrimage of the heart.
These pictures are from my and my family’s photo albums of the land of California.