Thursday, August 9, 2012

Fresno, CA

On the first day of a trip up north to visit relatives, my family and I spent our first night at our cousin Colleen's house in Fresno, CA.

Colleen is actually my granddad's cousin.  Now in her eighties, she is full of amazing stories recalling her work on the Manhattan Project and as a spy in Asia during the 1950's, where she was able to put to use her talent for doing what she's most interested in -- "blowing things up."  She's a scientist and an incredibly gifted artist, with a large house filled with her own paintings and antiques, but it is her garden which most fascinates me every time I visit.

Colleen's yard includes every variety of native California oak, Western Redbud trees, California Redwoods and various other native and exotic plants -- many with very interesting histories to go along with them.  It's a pleasant place to stay, drink fresh well water, and enjoy the salubrious climate of California's Central Valley.

On this trip, I learned that a Blue Oak (pictured above) has longer, skinnier leaves than the Coast Live Oaks I am so familiar with in the Southland (below) 

After having planted a Western Redbud tree in my front yard, I was happy to see an abundance of these native trees throughout Colleen's front yard (below)

Colleen had planted some Matilija Poppies, because she wanted to paint the flowers.  She also had a scrub oak from the Sierra Nevada Foothills which one of her students had dug up and brought to her years ago.

Several of Colleen's paintings hang in my house, in my room and even in my brother's dorm, yet I am always blown away by her work every time I see more of it…

The author with an Engelmann, a.k.a. Pasadena Oak Tree
Although I'm just a kid from the Arroyo, it's trips up north like these which remind me of what it means to be a Californian… There's always something changing along Highway 99, and usually for the worse.  I am so thankful that a place like Colleen's holds true to the sense of place that defines our great state.  


  1. This bit of your history reminds me of my own. I like your grand aunt and her painting of purple cosmos. My grandfather also worked on the Manhatten project and I had a grand aunt who painted in the style of Van Gogh, but she lived in Sierra Madre. And I too am a daughter of the arroyo - since the 60's.

  2. Thank you for commenting… you are the very first!

    Wow, is that what those flowers are? She paints all kinds! That's interesting about your grandfather… I wonder if they ever met? Was he at Berkeley or in the Grass Valley area?