A Love Affair with Green: American Southwest (Day 5-6)

Standing in the open pit of the Borax mine.
Standing in the open pit of the Borax mine.
The smoke clears after the scheduled blast in one of the pit's benches.
The smoke clears after the scheduled blast in one of the pit’s benches.

After adventures in Trona, we stayed in a hotel in Mojave and woke up to drive to Boron, California.  True to its name, Boron is home to the world’s largest Borax mine, which produces almost half of the world’s borates (referring to compounds consisting of boron and oxygen).  For the freshmen, many of whom spent an entire semester researching the process of mining minerals like these, it’s often easier to make demands and manipulate these processes when thinking about them in the abstract.  But when you put names and faces to these endeavors, it becomes a completely different story.  Mining to me has always represented a significant toll on the environment that is taking a nonrenewable resource and making it scarcer.  Not that I have a significant solution to the problem, but it’s not something I respect.  But at the mine, I met a recent graduate from my home state Missouri, who let us see a blast that was happening in one of the benches of the mine.  To find someone from Missouri in California, or pretty much anywhere outside of Missouri, is pretty rare.  (Also, if any of you are from Missouri, and especially St. Louis, you will appreciate the fact that the traditional conversation after you find out someone else is from Missouri happened: my follow-up question was, “What high school did you go to?” 🙂 )  Regardless, this guy had been an environmental engineer until he found out that the geological engineering department would sponsor a trip to Peru for him, at which he promptly switched, interned at a mine, realized he loved the intersection between geological engineering and mining, and minored in explosives engineering.  Listening to him speak with such passion for the mine forced a lot of us to think about our views more critically than before.

We were led around the open pit for a while and shown a variety of minerals similar to the ones that they might mine for.  Afterwards, like every day, we spread out the lunch table in the parking lot, took out the bread, sliced cheese, purple cabbage, peanut butter, jam, four different types of mustard, horseradish sauce, a variety of packaged meats (no idea what they were, I’m vegetarian), bags of fruit, and different combinations of chips and cookies.  Simple and satisfying.  With full stomachs, we began our drive to Temecula, and the last I heard before drifting off into an afternoon nap, leaning my head against the window that looked out into the grayish-brown sandy desert, was that we might be stopping at the San Andreas fault.

I think it must have been about an hour later when I began to wake up to other’s voices in the van.  I had fallen asleep to music in my ears, and I sat up, took the headphones out of my ears, and rubbed my eyes, when suddenly, I froze.  I took my hands off my eyes, and yelled at an ungodly decibel level: “OH MY GOD, IT’S SO GREEN!”

Cliffs at the San Andreas Fault

And it was.  Everywhere all around me were not the harsh, gray-brown mountains that I had exclusively seen for the past 5 days, but green all over the mountains and grass on the side of the highway.  Trees, actual brown bark with branches and green leaves, had never looked more beautiful.  My van-mates were amused and told me that this had happened about thirty minutes ago, and I wondered how there hadn’t been an absolute uproar over this that should have woken me up when we entered this lush world of life.

I truly am a creature of my environment, and my enthusiasm level at this point spiked through the roof.  When we stopped at the San Andreas fault, I just stood on rocks and stared around me, still in slight disbelief at how beautiful green grass can look against a blue sky.  And how a flower could be so yellow.

Yellow Flowers in San Andreas

Entrance to the "town" of Temecula.
Entrance to the “town” of Temecula.

We stayed the night in Temecula, right outside the extremely fake, contrived “Old West” tourist town (which nonetheless provided for an excellent morning walk and breakfast hashbrowns), and in the morning drove up to Pala, the location of the Oceanview Gem Mine, high in the mountains.  I was staring out the window, thinking about how I had no idea what a gem mine looked like, when suddenly the perfect scene from a classic English novel appeared to my left.  It was the definition of green, rolling hills bathed in a sparkling mist looking back at me.  The occasional abandoned wooden house structure, far in the distance, with just an endless sea of green– it was so beautiful that my stomach actually ached.

Ready to sift through detritus from the mine to find precious stones and minerals.
Ready to sift through detritus from the mine to find precious stones and minerals.

At the top of the mountain in the gem mine, the workers would take us into the underground mine and show us where they would blast through the rock and find huge pockets of quartz.  They would let each of us learn how to sift through the material from the pegmatite in the mine to find a variety of precious stones and gems.  But after five or six buckets of rock and clay and enough pink and black tourmalines, crystal-clear spodumenes, and sparkling purple lepidolites to fill my shelves back home, I realized there was no way I could continue this knowing the scenery that was literally right behind my back.

So while others continued to head back to the pile in the center, I washed my muddy hands and grabbed my camera.  A light mist had settled on the land below me, creating a lush beauty that seemed to be brimming with life.  Near my feet were orange and yellow blooms that stood bright against the perfectly ordered rows of orange trees, far in the distance.  Peeking through the branches of trees, I found a house which I imagined to belong to a family with a girl and boy.  I stood, crouched, and leaned taking pictures for so long that soon one of the workers walked up behind me and said, “What are you taking pictures of?  Anything and everything?”  I took that as a compliment.

Hills and Flowers

Oceanview Roses

The Last of the DesertGreen, Green EverywhereI realized that day that the desert is certainly beautiful– it’s strong, tough, and as I have said before, holds a sort of untouchable beauty.  Yet it’s just that–distant and otherworldly.  And I discovered that as much as I appreciate the desert’s unique beauty, I have a love affair with green.  I need the earthiness of life, the palette of colors, the desire to breathe deeply and savor the moisture in the air.  There’s a certain tenderness, a vulnerability woven through a landscape of green hills and fruit trees that the strong, beautifully harsh desert will never have.

I respect and admire the desert.  But I cherish the green.  Like a love of my life, it steals its way into my heart and becomes home.

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4 thoughts on “A Love Affair with Green: American Southwest (Day 5-6)”

  1. my favorite out of this series of posts. especially the impact of description “a vulnerability woven through a landscape of green hills and fruit trees”. 🙂

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