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'growing' up on a ranch

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I told a bit of a falsehood, I guess. I didn't actually grow up on a ranch. I grew up 'around' a ranch, for whatever that's worth. I spent a fair amount of time at my Aunt's ranch in Livermore.

My actual home was in Castro Valley, CA; a small suburban settlement of neverending housing developments in the East bay area. Our house was on top of a hill that (on a good day) enabled views clear to San Jose and San Francisco. Castro Valley was caught in a situation unique to California: stuck between the country life and the crime and grit of slum neighborhoods closer to the bay. Upon his departure from the Army two years ago, my Brother discovered Castro Valley had completely lost the battle against becoming a slum itself. It doesn't look bad, but it's crime-ridden and hardened more than ever now. A fair portion of my time growing up was spent wandering the lower streets getting into trouble, but that's not what this specific blog is about.

Back to my Aunt's ranch!! For the first twenty years of it's existence it was a sprawling expanse of rolling hills. A long gravel driveway made it's way through sheep pastures and up a small hill prominently featuring the Ranch house. In classic Ranch house fashion it was one story tall with a jillion rooms, wrapped tightly by open decks and lush groomed lawns. The back lawn was actually big enough to house our own brand of amateur sporting events during my Aunt's many get-togethers.

To the rear, the hill gave way to a small valley with horse pastures and another hill with the barn. The barn was huge by my standards, and behind that lay yet the biggest portion of the property, one open pasture with larger hills. That large pasture lay over and behind those hills to be skirted by wineries and other ranches.

It was here that my Aunt boarded horses (usually for free to friends) and raised her own world-class arabians. I've spent quite a few vacations deep into the Sierra Nevada horse camping with my own family and my Aunt's large entourage of friends and equine associates.

At the ranch itself, I spent many weekend days and summer days working and simply enjoying the ranch life. The 'simple life' and clean air bore a stark contrast to the dramatics and filth of the East bay. It's easy in that light to see things for how they should be, and even know how you want your life to be when you're an adult. Why suffer through a high cost of living only to live a hurried life in air that doesn't feel good in your lungs?

Unfortunately, in recent years the activities have taken a downturn, as has the ranch. My Aunt's octogenarian status has meant that she started gradually reducing the amount of horses she had through natural atrittion. A fair amount of her original ranch property has been sold off to bloodthirsty developers which promptly built ugly look-alike houses on top of the once beautiful rolling golden fields.

I haven't been back; I've only heard from my brother as to the way things are. I don't think I want to go see for myself, either. Have you ever held a certain place or house dear to your heart because of time spent there as a child? Surely going to see the place won't do anything for me but bring me down. It's not like a gravesite that you visit regularly to pay your respects; the death of the ranch leaves fond memories that don't need to be replaced with a new vision of the way things are.

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  1. xxmikexx's Avatar

    I think that those of us who grew up in tough areas of cities appreciate rural America more than most. A line from Stevie Wonderís ďLiviní For The CityĒ comes to mind ...

    A child is born, in Hard Times, Mississippi.

    Your escape from the grimness of Castro Valley was your auntís ranch. Mine was to my grandparents' bungalo in the new Sherman Oaks development in the San Fernando Valley, the Valley at that time being almost completely empty, in huge contrast to the densely crowded Sicilian neighborhood at the north end of NYCís Little Italy that I grew up in, and in equal contrast to the Valley of today.

    I was exposed to horses later during 3.5 years at a boarding school consisting mostly of kids from dysfunctional families like mine. To my surprise I found horses to be intelligent, friendly, and excellent pets even though they were comparatively large. My only problem with horses was the amount of time and effort required to keep them healthy. (And the expense of course though somebody else was paying.)

    So where did you go camping by horseback in the Sierras? My one such experience was a three day summertime trail ride in Vermont. I loved it.
    Updated 08-07-2008 at 03:15 AM by xxmikexx
  2. tigisfat's Avatar
    Have you ever heard of a place called Silver Lake? It's a little south of Lake Tahoe. It's distinguished by being north/souht oriented with a small island. It's not huge, but there are plenty of horse trails that start there and lead to everywhere in California. we spent more time basing at Silver Lake than anywhere else.

    Then there was also Cherry lake, Yosemite and others. I liked Yosemite the least because of it's filth and smog. (that's right, SMOG). Most large valleys and Canyons in the Sierra Nevada are as beautiful as Yosemite. They say that long ago, the Hetch Hetchy valley was far more beautiful than Yosemite. That was of course before it was turned into one of the larger reservoirs in the area. Other than those main places, I've been all over those mountains. We'd select a base of operations, and leave on horseback for even more remote destinations. You gotta leave the beaten path to truly find the best scenery. Well, you also gotta leave the camping areas if you're going to find fishing and hunting so that you can eat!! The best camping is setting out on a horse for a few days at a time with minimal supplies. I enjoyed it, but I don't think I could hack it now. I like my creature comforts just fine after all my time camping as a young guy, then in tents all over the middle east when I got older.
  3. xxmikexx's Avatar
    No, I've not heard of Silver Lake. As for Yosemite, we were there in 1976 and it was clean and stunningly beautiful, with unobtrusive and immacualte campgrounds maintained by the National Park Service. I'm sorry to hear that it has been degraded by the modern world. Except for Old Faithful it actually exceeded all of our expectations.

    I've heard of Hetch Hetchy but know nothing about it other than what you just told me.

    On my one three-day outing I caught, cooked and ate a bunch of trout fingerlings. They were delicious -- and I don't even like fish. (No, I shouldn't have done it but yes, I was that kind of kid.)


    Camping is great. As a kid I did plenty of wilderness camping but in three years of driving vacations I decided that we would use KOAs.

    By a week into our first vacation we were able to set up camp in 15 minutes, and we could break camp the next morning in half an hour. So we got the best of both worlds -- sleeping on the floors of fragrant pine forests, for example, while still being able to take showers, which was important to the women folk.

    I'm a night owl and spent many wonderful early mornings just feeding brush into a low fire, watching the embers and marveling that we exist.
    Updated 08-07-2008 at 06:35 AM by xxmikexx
  4. Ranie Smith's Avatar
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