By Carroll Smith
In reflecting on my travels through northern California and a good bit of its rice country, I am reminded of author Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. Alice, a young girl, tries to imagine what the world looks like on the other side of the mirror. As she touches the mirror’s reflection, Alice is surprised that she can step through the looking glass into a world that is clear and recognizable, yet, in many ways strange to her – an alternative world, if you will.
My own adventure began as our publisher Lia Guthrie and I climbed into her Pilot in Mendocino County, heading to California rice country to visit with farmers. But, first, we had to make the 20-minute hike down the ridge under the curious, watchful eyes of wild turkeys and small deer.
Just the afternoon before, I was mesmerized by my first strange wildlife sighting: A White-tailed Kite, a delicate and graceful bird of prey that hovers in the air like a lady’s white lace handkerchief, fluttering in the breeze. In the past, when a lady dropped her handkerchief in front of a gentleman, it was to let him know that she was romantically interested in him. When the White-tailed Kite drops to the ground, the result in not quite so romantic as he has just scooped up his supper – some unsuspecting small mammal.
When we reached the highway at the bottom of the ridge, Lia turned on her GPS and programmed in the location of our first appointment in the Sacramento Valley. “Marsha,” Lia’s nickname for the “GPS lady,” took it upon herself to take us on the scenic route to the rice farm. After many miles of obediently following Marsha’s instructions, we found ourselves in what I would call “an enchanted land.”
Desert cottontails – storybook-like animals – appeared from the thickets and scampered across the small, dirt road. The next sight we encountered was a pair of peacocks in all their glory, with shimmering, brightly colored blue and green plumes, wandering out of the woods and crossing the road into the adjacent field. Even as we drove through downtown Yuba City, a rooster, cool as could be, caught my eye as he crossed a busy intersection. And the landscape is different. I was intrigued by the beautiful almond and walnut orchards that exist next to rice fields. I also was amazed at the field of wild rice, growing high and majestic, at Kennan Corporation’s breeding facility in Pleasant Grove.
At one point during the trip, Lia did laugh when I commented on the majestic mountains in the distance, which actually were foothills, she said. (In my defense, when you are from the flat land of Louisiana, the biggest thing that we have to make a mountain out of is a molehill).
In flying back to Memphis a few days later, I suppose somewhere along the way I stepped back through the looking glass into a world with which I was familiar. However, I will always marvel at and fondly remember the surreal sights and the gracious people I met in “Wonderland:” California rice country.
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