Apparently, driving around the Central Valley looking at the tree blossoms is a thing. It’s like East Coast leaf peeping, except looking farm fields of nut and fruit trees. Lately, I’ve been seeing lots of pictures of blooms on Instagram tagging the Fresno Blossom Trail, and as one who suffers from FOMO (fear of missing out), I wanted to see these blooms for myself. So yesterday, Stella and I barged down to Fresno to see what all the fuss was about.
The Fresno Blossom Trail is a self-guided driving tour that’s put together by the Fresno County Office of Tourism. The drive starts a bit southeast of Fresno and loops you through several small central valley towns. Some of the drive is on busy main roads, and you’re driving through the towns with no blossoms in sight, but other sections are on back farm roads, which are easy to miss or get lost on. You can print this map from the tourism website, but a few roads on the map aren’t labeled, so I recommend comparing it to Googlemaps before you get started. There are “Blossom Trail” signs that point in the right direction along the drive.
In addition to seeing the flowers, I was also wanting to explore more of my new geographical California region. Growing up on the coast, there was never a reason to go into the valley. There still isn’t much, but I am having a really hard time with directions and the spatial arrangement of my new location. I was hoping that seeing more of the area and traveling south down the valley would give me some clarity. Because I’m now in the middle of the state, as opposed to a coast, I have no bearings of north-south-east-west.
For those of you not familiar with California, the central valley is the region in the middle of the state, the low-lying land between the coast mountain ranges and the Sierra Nevadas. It stretches almost the entire length of California, running north to south. In general, it’s much lower income than the rest of the state, the cities are made up of big box stores, and the economy is agriculture based. This is the area where most of the country’s food comes from. It’s also where California’s Trump voters are.
The tour takes you through a variety of different types of orchards. Both in variety, but also management. While I saw only one orchard with an organic sign, it’s obvious that the farmers of the region take different approaches to taking care of the land. Some lots were lush with an undergrowth of grasses and weeds; others were sterile, the soil disked and sprayed bare. Some trees were pruned so severely that they made me emotionally distressed.
While I 100% understand that they are shaped that way for production and efficiency of harvest, to me, they seemed tortured. Almost like factory farmed animals that aren’t allowed to live out their life as nature intended it. These trees weren’t allowed to dance in the wind, their branches were tied together. Nor could they send a wayward branch out to greet a bird, their tops were shaved off with machines.
The drive is very low-key, simply pull over the side of the road and take a look at something that interests you. Some orchards are bordered with chainlink fences, others are posted with no trespassing signs, some had posters up with scull and crossbones, “Peligro/ Caution” in bold letters- indications of poisons just sprayed. But others were much more welcoming, and I pulled over and wandered bit amongst the trees. I could feel distinct differences in the energy of the orchards with life, to those with bare soil. The almond and plum orchards that I spent the most time in had bees, butterflies and birds. They also had weeds growing under the trees. These orchards made me happy and made my soul smile.
It might be strange to seek out nature in the middle of big farms in the Central Valley, but in these ‘wild’ orchards, it’s totally possible. As I walked under the falling petals and listened to the birds, I thought of David Mas Masumoto’s Epitaph for a Peach. One of my favorite books, he writes about his year-long journey to farm his Sun Crest peaches in harmony with, not against, nature. He has a chapter where he abandons the chemical weapons and the tractors and lyrically details surrendering the battle against weeds in his orchard: letting them grow and the lizards that move in. He ends with a quote that I thought of as I walked these orchards: “Neighbors drive past, watch my progress, and talk with my wife while my weeds grow, seemingly out of control. They ask if something has happened to me. My farm looks as if the farmer has died”.
Overall, it took me a few hours to drive the official Fresno Blossom Tour. I caught the tail end of the almond bloom, and the nectarine and peaches were just starting. Plums were also finishing up, and the apricots and cherries hadn’t started. Having now done it, I don’t think I’d take the time again, at least not for the full tour. My favorite orchards where the ones that were alive, and on the north end of the tour. If I could time my visit with peak almond bloom, I’d try again.