by cheri block
The Central Valley of California, known to most around the this country as America’s Breadbasket, has, in places, a distinct smell.
In the San Joaquin Valley, a fertile tract east of my hometown, the large tires of agribusiness are now turning from early morning to late evening, readying the rich soil for planting. Hundreds of acres of dark loam prepare for the daily massage.
Into the air the peat dust ascends and with it, the sweet smell of an earthen fragrance that only a farmer could love. Well, only a farmer and those of us whose rich memories are stimulated by breathing in this dusty manure-ish, bold dark primordial aroma of Mother Earth’s perfume.
It is in this environment that the happiest of my childhood days were spent at a horse camp for children called Shady Lawn Farm.
Today my memory delivers me to the lapidary, a darkish and cool small room filled with children polishing and smoothing rocks on petite electrical brushes. The whirr of these machines could not hide the chatter of little people at work. Could my rock change from a homely stone to a shiny jewel? Our instructor was positive that it could and it was because of her belief that I persevered that hot summer day in the late afternoon. Indeed, my gray dollop of a rock became a shiny gray dollop of a rock and thus, I left the lapidary for the barn where the horses waited for gentle hands.
On the way to the barn, I considered my artistry and pictured the pleasure my mother’s face would express upon receiving her polished gift on a silver chain, straight from those little hands that could shine a rock as well as saddle a horse.
I remember the long walk to the barn in my Justin boots, often covered with the essence of peat dust.