Year in Yosemite: Moving On
I was worried about moving from Yosemite National Park to Orange County, California. And rightly so. Two more different places could hardly be found. Although it may not feel like it to those who visit in summer, with its crush of people and its bumper-to-bumper traffic, Yosemite, at its heart, is about the preservation of wilderness.
In the mid-1800s, Frederick Law Olmstead (designer of Central Park) pushed for a Yosemite where roads would funnel people into 5% of its landmass. That left the other 95%, an area the size of Rhode Island, alone.
The same could not be said of Orange County. Size-wise, it’s one of the smallest counties in California. Yet, with just over 3 million people, its population ranks it third in the state, just behind Los Angeles to its north and San Diego to the south. It wasn't always this way.
As its name implies, Orange County once supplied citrus to the world. At the very same time that Olmstead was laying out his vision of Yosemite, farmers were planting Orange County's first Valencia orange trees. By 1948, 5 million trees were under cultivation on 67,000 acres of land. Yet 30 years later, only 4,000 acres remained. By 2005, less than 100 acres of Valencia oranges still existed. What happened? Development. As the aerospace and defense industries of the Cold War years moved to Southern California, the people who owned Orange County’s farms discovered the land had far more value when the only thing cropping up were office buildings and housing tracts.
Near our home, and throughout the county, it's hard to drive even one-half mile without seeing a shopping mall. I often joke that the shopping centers of Fashion Island and South Coast Plaza are Orange County’s version of El Capitan and Half Dome. Make the mistake of visiting them on a weekend and you would swear that every man, woman and child in the county is there.
Which is not to say that land hasn't been preserved. You just have to look for it. There are wild canyons, acres of wetlands, and, most famously, 41 miles of coastline. From my desk, I look out on the Pacific. On clear days, Catalina and San Clemente islands appear so close I can see the texture and color variation of their cliffs. And it is that view that makes Orange County a place I’m coming to love. In its own strange way it reminds me of the Sierras.
I realized that when we went back to Yosemite at Christmas. Coming up over the rise on Highway 41 headed north out of Fresno, I watched with awe as, once again, the foothills spread out before us. The horizon seems to go on forever, and the land, with its soft curves and horizontal planes, struck me as the most peaceful place in the world.
It's the same feeling I have when I sit and look out the windows of my office. In the distance, the city stops cold and the wide, open expansive Pacific takes over. As its name implies, it is, indeed, peaceful. Just as Yosemite filled me with awe, to sit at the place where the madness stops, the city is contained and nature reigns supreme, makes me grateful indeed for my new home.
(Top two photos: Nancy Casolaro. Bottom photo: Jon Jay.)
In May 2009, while hiking in Yosemite National Park, long-time Los Angeles resident Jamie Simons turned to her husband and said, "I want to live here." Jamie and her family lived in Yosemite for more than three years before returning to Orange County. Check out all of her blog articles by clicking here.