Over the past few days, I've walked from San Jose to Gilroy, the southernmost tip of the "Bay Area" at the south end of Coyote Valley. I've walked along the Coyote Creek Trail, a multi use path managed by SCC parks dept, and Monterey Highway, the dirt road Muir would have taken from San Jose to Old Gilroy and the pass to the east. Wheat was the crop then. Orchards have since displaced wheat and the historic oak woodland/savannah of the area.
It might be more appropriate to say that housing is what is "grown" in the valley now. Last night, Ranger Phil Hearin of SCC parks showed me a view of the valley from above, pointing to the bright lights of the last few years of development set amidst surrounding darkness. All those lights have come on within the last 5 years, many within the last 2 or 3, Hearin said. Even expecting this kind of development in the valley, the space and pace of it was still a surprise to see.
If this kind of development were composed of rocks instead of houses, future geologists might be puzzled. Instead of the steady layering of development upon development seen in places like San Francisco or Oakland, the developments in Coyote Valley have erupted suddenly, and with more random distribution, creating a strange pattern of light and dark at night. In the daylight, it remains bizarre to walk past stately home that might fit well in suburban Connecticut to a vacant field next door.
Some unsurprising facts: the valley has been hit hard by the economic downturn, with foreclosures up nearly 30% this year, according to Hearin. Farmland is constantly diminishing, with much of it being bought by developers.
More surprising: other farms have been abandoned, said Hearin, not because of pressure from developers but because of the complaints of new and unusual neighbors, displeased with the noise and early morning schedule of the farmers.
In short, the community itself, not just the land it is built upon, has changed rapidly. In the "Valley of Heart's Delight," the valley of Muir's "ether baptism" in rambles, what has become of the famed American pastoral dream? The farmer standing away from the city, not too far, with stars and stripes waving behind?
Perhaps it is being lost, diminished with each passing generation. America is young still, with much of its history yet to be forged, with changes coming rapidly and constantly. Or perhaps the dream is being relocated, from the land lived upon to the land visited. Parks, local and remote, might provide some satiation for pastoral longing for new suburbanites on old farmland. Or maybe the pastoral is being technologically updated, appearing now in green buildings, CFLs, and low flow toilets. I've seen many of these expressions in the last few days: the recreation intensive parks of Santa Clara County, the stubborn farms persisting in Coyote Valley, the new light bulbs and lawn designs at the Gilroy outlets.
It's been an overwhelming time, moving in and out of locales replete with varying degrees of naturalness and development. Even the place I slept last night was in a park across the creek from a juvenile detention facility ("escapes are frequent," ranger Hearin informed me just before I unfurled my sleeping bag... the after dark adventures continue, giving my mom gray hairs...). It's a lot to think about, with the change seeming fast paced even for a walker. It must seem so to the residents of Coyote Valley as well, as their world rapidly reconfigures to a new set of demands and pressures.