Tag: California

Dry Land to the East

I was in the passenger side of the car, in the back seat. The land was barren and dry, filled with rugged rocks and sparse vegetation – beautiful and lonely.

I like to have my digital camera (here, X100V) set to a fast exposure and point and shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot out the car window. It is always surprising what you get and rather fun, too.

Mess Hall

This is a distance shot of one of the remaining mess halls / dining halls at Manzanar, the Japanese interment camp located in the Owens Valley of California. The Eastern Sierras butt up against with a sort of barren plain between the camp and the mountains. Over 110,000 Americans were forced here during WW2.

Not a lot remains here. Barracks were many, as were latrines, laundries, manufacturing, kitchens, and a cemetery. A hospital and schools and recreation areas kept this from being a dreadful place of extermination, but it did often exterminate self-worth and communities.

Along Hwy 395

I have a lot of fun setting the X100V to A (for “auto”) for everything, and just shooting out the window of the car as we drive along. Sometimes reflections in the car show up, but that is really irrelevant when trying to catch the flavor of a place and it’s over 105F in the shade. Here, a shot through the window which shows the lovely barrenness of the Owens Valley.

In Memoriam

Manzanar was an interment camp for Americans of Japanese ancestry, native-born, citizens, Japanese-born. All of this because the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. This event drew America, at last, into World War II, in both Asia and Europe.

The Japanese are a minority within the US, and like many groups, faced discrimination. Other groups, though, because they were European – Caucasian – were not interred. Did the US inter people of German or Italian descent during WWII? No . . . and for sheerly pragmatic reasons . . . probaby 25% of the entire population of the country would have to be locked up, fed, and guarded.

A friend of mine, who is Japanese-American, said that the displays at Manzanar make it look like it was fun to be there rather than a prison. Granted, it was a concentration camp, but it was not like the camps run by Axis powers in WWII. Another friend, who spent her childhood at a camp in Arizona, said it was like going to summer camp. As a child, it could perhaps be seen as such, but as an adult? I wonder how many adults were “broken” by the experience.

Manzanar is in the Owens Valley along Highway 395 in California, on the eastern of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The land was once a fertile valley, but in the early 1900s, Los Angeles began buying up water rights. The result was the water that kept the valley green was sent to L.A., and Owens Lake and Owens River soon disappeared. As the water disappeared, so did farming and wildlife, and in its wake, a dryer, harsher land emerged. It is still beautiful, but it is also the result of politics and greed.

So, this was a perfect place to make an interment camp for people perceived as “the enemy.” It’s always good to have someone to blame and someone at whom to direct hatred. Governments and political forces do this all the time. We have evidence of it throughout history. The Japanese were the American boogey-men of the 1940s. However, the Japanese servicemen in the 442nd Infantry Regiment were the most decorated fighting unit, “enemies” fighting another enemy.

But I digress. Manzanar was one of many concentration camps to inter the Japanese. Today it is a National Historic Site, located between Lone Pine and Independence. It is dry and hot, cold and windy, depending on the time of year. I have driven through this area in summer, in 105+ F heat. We stayed in Independence, in a hotel with minimal modern conveniences, such as air conditioning. It was around 100F – and we were miserable. I can only imagine what it was like without it, in shacks slapped together in haste, insulated with nothing. Hell in winter. Hell in summer.

Life in some ways was normal – and in many ways it was not. Detailing life at Manzanar would take pages. Simply put, people lived and died and were born at Manzanar. Above is a memorial to those who died at Manzanar – people of all ages, from babies, teens, adults, and the elderly – for a variety of reasons. This obelisk is in the far rear of Manzanar, in the cemetery, set against the Sierras. It’s austere lines meet the sky and the harsh beauty of the land. It seems to say it all.

Last Year, This Year

Fire season has begun! Up the coast, along Highway 101, the first fire has broken out near Gaviota. The land is hilly and grassy, and rugged in areas. This makes stopping the fire more challenging, and when the winds pick up, it can travel so fast. We have been having a heat wave in the 90s F for the past few days – today is supposedly the last one like that in our area. Then, down into the 70s F, which is much nicer. I used to love the hot winds, but they have become more fierce and destructive over the last few years that they are more frightening than ever.

This photo shows what we can be up against. The new spring growth, becoming lush in our seasonal rains, changes to dry, dead tinder for a wildfire. The swath of grey is last season’s new growth.