Now I would never want the almond blossoms to go away. They transform something normally "nice" looking into a gorgeous, dream-like fantasy beyond the normal limits of reality, like some agricultural version of Cinderella's ball gown, or the Sport's Illustrated swimsuit issue airbrush.
They give our region a sense of identity and a tidy income. Plus, they were here first. I love the almond blossoms, and everything about them. But I also love not gasping for breath as my lungs go from bronchitis to pneumonia to implosion in a self-destructive reaction to almond blooms, which used to happen to me every year.
Holding my breath didn't work. Putting a plastic bag over my head was better, but not by much. For a while, I tried wearing a pair of panty hose filled with HEPA filters over my head, but my husband complained about intimacy issues and it made banking really awkward.
Ultimately, the best solution has turned out to be three or four different kinds of allergy medicine and a week's vacation during the height of the blooming season.
Our goal for the annual "almond escape" has been to take our daughter to experience some of everything the West has to offer. Even if she doesn't remember it well, it's going to be formative, right?
Year one was the ocean. At 18 months, Lill had no concept that the flat expanse of blue, moving ground was any different than the flat expanse of tan ground, except that one was cold and the other made better sand castles. The big thrill for her? The queen sized motel bed, on which she crawled around in circles at nosebleed speeds, shrieking with glee. It was like some pediatric version of NASCAR, but with apple juice instead of beer and vastly stinkier tasks for the pit crew.
Year two, we went to Reno to show her snow. Again, the natural splendor failed in its role of main attraction. Lill had a warm-lander's lack of cold management comprehension. Snow was pretty, but the more snow castles you built with it, the more its "cold" hurt your fingers. Mittens were just silly -- wrap something around your hands so you can't touch it, just so you can touch it? Might as well just watch it on TV, where at least the squirrels sing. Snow was fine in five-minute bursts, but again, it the hotel scored highest. We stayed at Circus Circus, and though she liked the games and the live shows, it was the tram ride from one side of the hotel to the other that she loved most. At that age, Lill may have thought it was a roller coaster with a buffet at the end. (Which is, if you think about it, a pretty ingenious marketing ploy.) Or she may have simply enjoyed being warm enough to have feeling in all her extremities.
This year it was giant redwoods, and we rented a cabin. It was the first year that Lill enjoyed the surroundings more than the hotel room. It was also the first year that the room was colder than the surroundings. The first morning when she hopped out of bed and dashed for the bathroom, her little butt hit ice-cold porcelain right about the same time her feet registered the temperature of the floor through her sleep fogged brain. She levitated a full three feet back out onto carpet with eyes as wide as saucers.
Among the top revelations this trip: river gravel makes good sand castles, and not all public restrooms are clean. Also, too many cheese sticks plus too many hours logged in the car seat mean you need the heart of a Viking in the restroom.
I learned to pack prune juice on future car trips. Nothing like standing in a bathroom just off the highway, surrounded by she-bikers also making a rest stop, while your three year old daughter, in the throes of her first experience with constipation, is shouting, "MY BUTT HURTS!!" and "I'M GOING TO DIE!!" at the top of her lungs. I was more than a little worried the she-bikers were going to hold me down and force feed me cheese and proper parenting skills when we stepped out.
Travel. Good for the lungs. Good for the brain. It's too much to hope for that it would be good for the bowels, too.
Comments and travel tips to Alex.Queen@gmail.com.
This article first appeared in the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.