Sunday, March 15, 2009

Where are the cornflake hills?

The hills outside San Francisco, in my memory, were always brown; Herb Caen called them cornflake hills. But on this trip, after days of rain, the hills were all green and lush. On the way to Davis, near Sacramento, the land became flat farmland: miles and miles of it.

My first engagement in the Davis area was at the home of Cynthia Brantley, an African Studies professor at the university. She had invited six graduate students, all doing research projects in Africa, to come hear me talk. I hoped that what I was saying was new to all of them some of the time, and they seemed interested.

In Davis I stayed with Jeannette Hogan, whom I knew when she was a PCV in Nigeria. She had arranged for me to speak at the Avid Bookstore in Davis and in Sacramento as well as at a class at a community college. In Sacramento, the only attendee was my old friend Mike Shea from my Peace Corps Ghana group, so we sat and talked for an hour, and then Jeannette and I packed up and went home. I was SO glad Mike came, or I would have been disheartened.

In contrast, my talk at the Avid Reader in Davis was attended by 16 people, and it turned out that Jeannette had personally invited every one of them. It takes that contact, not newspaper or radio advertising, that brings people.

In that college town, it seems that bicycles are almost as numerous as cars, and I saw at one intersection the traffic signals included a crossing in any direction for bikes while all other traffic stopped. A bicycle was pictured where one might usually find a "walk" signal.

Outside Davis I visited the Jepson (Jephson?) Prairie vernal pools. The soil there is clay, so dense that water does not filter through it. Rainwater therefore collects in depressions until it evaporates. The varieties of plants that grow around the edges appear in succession as the water recedes, so one gets a "bathtub ring" effect. In a few weeks, I was told, there would be concentric rings of wildflowers dotting the landscape. I was a bit too early; what I saw was the pools.

As Jeannette is taking a class in Japanese massage, I was treated to two massages in my three days there, as a practice subject. What a treat!