The bus from Yosemite made good time and actually arrived at Merced Amtrak station early. The station itself is just a small building, and there’s no café - but you can buy drinks and unhealthy snacks from a machine, so I naturally made use of them. The train was perfectly on time, but I did enjoy the note of surprise in the automated announcement of its arrival.
The central valley of California is so flat that it almost makes Norfolk look like the Alps. I can still just make out the mountains in the distance, but it is a grey, misty, cold day and they look almost like far-off banks of cloud. So we roll past rusting barns and semi-derelict houses, scattered amongst vast fields of fruit or nut trees, all standing in immaculate rows, through small agricultural communities and acres of estates of new housing, while the locomotive’s horn repeatedly blasts out its warning for the many crossings.
Of course, as in the UK, the trains seem to travel through all the least attractive parts of any town - naturally, I suppose, since industry old and new has tended to cluster near the means of transport. Such places tend not to be the favoured places of abode of the better-off. They are rather the domain of trailer parks and run-down housing. It’s surprising though how often the train makes its way past the water treatment plants (or sewage works as we would call them).
Past Modesto on the way to Stockton we seem to be passing over a lot more irrigation canals. It makes me wonder how sustainable the sort of agriculture carried on here would be without irrigation. Would it all have to return to pasture? The amount of livestock in the fields to be seen from the train is pretty small, and on a very small scale. Perhaps it is different beyond what I can see, but so far it amounts to about a dozen sheep and maybe twenty cows, but millions upon million of trees in orchards.
Judging by the packing going on, we are now approaching Stockton. Nope, we’re just held up by a freight train ahead on the line. Still, it was only a short delay. I’m a bit disappointed that we haven’t passed one of those gigantic American goods (sorry, freight) trains yet today. They make UK goods trains seem such wimps. Ha! Hardly finished typing that and we passed one with over 100 cars. Now that would be hard to stop.
Eventually arrived in Stockton, which started me thinking about last year when I attended the John Muir Global Perspective Conference at the University of the Pacific there. Every time I told people from California at mw2006 that I was going on to California they would ask whereabouts. And when I said “Stockton” their faces took on this strange expression. “Oh”, they’d say. “Why Stockton?” I’m not sure my explanation ever convinced. I guess it’s the same look I would give Californians who announced they were going to Scotland, and then revealed their destination as Cumbernauld.
What is it about farms, that they accumulate great piles of rusting vehicles and equipment? Is it a reluctance to throw things away - sure that the bits may come in handy one day? Or is it that it’s not a proper farm until it has a share of rusting metal piled outside?
We’re here. Hope I can get a lift to my motel…