I keep forgetting to chronicle the first part of the June Lake/Yosemite saga: our visit to Forestiere Underground Gardens in Fresno. We first saw it sometime in June, when I stood forlornly outside its closed gates, trying to wheedle an entry out of a leathery old guy who was watering the roses. No luck.
So we returned.......and it was everything I imagined, even though seen through the lens of an over-tired, tantruming two-year old and a tour guide that kept laying a hand on my shoulder as he made a point.
The Italians and Their....Soy?
Upon learning that I was an organic gardener, he stepped a little closer and asked me, in an intimate, confiding tone, "Tell me, what are your opinions on..... soy?"
"Er.....soy? As a protein substitute? As a cover crop?" I stammered, edging slightly away. I then-reluctantly- got into deep waters about the dangers of soy as a single source of protein for vegetarians, a subject that I knew more about as a Santa Cruzan than as an organic gardener. He was an interesting guy, round, Italian and sweaty, the great-nephew of Baldasare Forestiere, the creator of the gardens. He was all professional tour guide, soft-spoken, but so charismatic I found that I didn't want to let him down; (even though organic gardening has little to nothing to do with soy, other than that it is a legume, and therefore able to fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil-but I don't think that's where he was going.) Anyway, I found myself repeating things I'd overheard in line at the local health food store, and by the end of this stressful conversation, I was all but quoting bumper stickers. A breath of relief when the tour started and he released my shoulder from his meaty grasp.......
Not unlike Roman catacombs........
But the gardens! I loved it. There were tunnels upon tunnels, to compete with the smials of Hobbiton, and everywhere, the lovely mellowed orange of Fresno's hard pan. The arches were beautifully constructed, not unlike Roman catacombs, or some of the work we'd seen in the cloisters of abbeys in England. We were underneath a 10 acre fruit orchard, with pomegranates, grapevines, citrus and my one of my favourites, the fejoia sellowiana, (pineapple guava) which I found reaching up underground through round holes in the earth's crust. These Forestiere planted 60 years ago in round raised beds and then trained to grow up through large holes in the ceiling of his underground complex. These trees reach up 6 or 7 feet before throwing their branches to the sky, like moles coming up for air. It's just incredible.
Back in the day, Baldasare's orchard sat in a remote stretch of countryside outside Fresno, but now it is on busy busy Shaw Avenue, right next to In-N-Out Burger and some strip malls that had been thrown up (ha ha) within the last 10 years: you know, petcostarbucksjambajuiceofficemaxchili'sappleby's, etc. The new Fresno. I hope the right people recognize that although this garden is a piece of ephemera, it's sure to outlast its bland, throw-away surroundings. A testimony to one man's ingenuity, perseverance (he dug it all by hand over a period of 40 years) and seeming desperation to get out of the heat. I also like that he just did it because he wanted to; he seemed like a right salty old bachelor in the end; like an underground king of the mountain.
Sufjan, Scrabble & the Dead
We stayed the night with Neb & his lovely bride Danielle in the much more interesting Tower District where we were feasted royally. G & I sang songs to the moon through the branches of a stately & august orange tree. Later, we sat over a meditative game of Scrabble, drinking something dark and made with hops and listening to Sufjan Stevens' stupendous Seven Swans. Who knew such a night could be had in Fresno?
Oh, and after the gardens, we met Neb at his work-a local funeral home. G & I played in the chapel (hide & seek) whilst Neb took B on a tour "behind the scenes" where apparently they saw all the things you would expect to see behind the freezer door at a funeral home. As we followed Neb home, B announced to me, oddly upbeat, " I saw dead people today!"
We left it at that.