“And the seasons they go round and round

And the painted ponies go up and down

We’re captive on a carousel of time.”

~Joni Mitchell, The Circle Game

Every couple of months or so, Herb and I drive to the Bay Area to spend time with our two little grandsons. Making the journey by car instead of flying began in 2020, in the throes of the pandemic, when our first grandson was born. We think about taking a plane sometimes – it’s a one-hour flight from San Diego – but we end up opting for the road, a tradition that has woven itself into our travel routine.

We head out early and stop at our son’s house in Los Angeles for pancakes, coffee and conversation before continuing on our way northward. The stretch of Interstate 5 between LA and the Bay Area takes us past now-familiar landmarks: Six Flags Magic Mountain, Pyramid Lake and the 40-mile “Grapevine” that climbs to 4,144 feet before descending into the San Joaquin Valley.

It is here, in this vast agricultural landscape of orchards, vineyards and farmlands, that the scenery transforms itself into a calendar, marking the seasons and the passage of time. It is also here that I pull out my camera to record the view from my window. Each trip, it seems, offers a nugget of beauty that I want to capture, a fleeting moment that I’m certain will not be here the next time we pass this way.

Spring

Spring is trumpeting its arrival in a glorious display on our most recent journey in late February. Miles of trees brimming with pink and white blossoms line the highway. Some orchards are filled with bright shades, while others display more muted tones And in some places, the blossoms have already fallen or have been blown by the wind, carpeting the seemingly endless rows of trees like a snowfall.

Summer

Deep green fields and distant golden hills are the hallmarks of summer in the San Joaquin Valley. Bountiful groves of nut trees, fruit trees and vineyards line the highway, and produce trucks piled high with garlic bulbs and bright red tomatoes travel the route along with us.

Photographing Fields in the San Joaquin Valley - the modern postcard

Autumn

Shades of orange and yellow burst onto the landscape, with trees holding tight to their color-changing leaves and letting go as others fall to the ground. Clouds hang low in the sky, and daylight begins to loosen its hold on the season. On the drive homeward, a bubbly balloon of a sunrise appears over silhouetted fields like a pot of paint spilling onto an old sepia-toned photograph.

Winter

Fog swirls through the valley, spinning a moody scene over bare-branched trees and fallow fields. The world outside my window looks cold, desolate, lonely. And yet the sun peeks through the early morning landscape, painting the sky with soft pastel colors, welcoming another day.

8 Comments

  • Beautifully poetic Mary. Nice to see the landscape from your point of view vs the long, truck filled, smelly road that keeps us flying up. Then again it might be a nicer drive if we left before dawn. 🤪

    • Aw, thanks so much, Lauren. I’ve been surprised by how much beauty there is on that stretch of road, and I think you’re right about traveling it during the peaceful early morning hours!

  • What a wonderful landscape to travel though! I love the changing seasons and enjoy watching the endless changes of colour palette in the land around me. This morning I noticed the dawn chorus for the first time this year which is a fine reminder that Spring isn’t far away in this part of the world, though we still await a single blossom, let alone so many beautiful fields full of them. The wide open spaces of the San Joaquin Valley are truly magnificent – thank you for sharing them with us, Mary x

    • So glad you enjoyed the photos, Gill! Spring definitely arrives earlier here than in other parts of the U.S. and the world. And although I’d seen some signs of spring in our neighborhood, I was not prepared for the abundance of blossoming trees that lined our drive through the San Joaquin Valley. A pink and white wonderland that went on for miles beyond the little video I took! I love the changing seasons, too, and it has been a real treat to capture each season in the same stretch of travel.

  • Usually, I-5 is miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles. But in your case – What a wonderful photo story! I have traveled that road more times than i care to remember, but you did a wonderful presentation of what i may have missed along the way. Well, not everything. The aroma of the Harris Ranch comes to mind…..

    • Hahaha, Gil…The aroma from Harris Ranch is definitely not part of the scenic beauty of the seasons along I-5! Thank you so much for your kind comment. I’m delighted you enjoyed the photos!

  • But you know, Harris Ranch is a critical stop up I-5 if you have a Tesla and an appetite, You drive in, plug in, have a leisurely lunch or dinner, and you have enough juice to complete the rest of the trip. But, since I drive an F-150…..

    • Good point for Tesla drivers. Our routine is a stop at the Lost Hills exit at Arco (almost always the best gas prices on the route) and Pilot (cleanest restrooms we’ve found). We pack sandwiches and enjoy our lunch while driving, which helps to reach our destination sooner!

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