Symphony 52

They rolled past Tracy and onto highway 580. For as far as the eye could see in every direction were windmills. Most of them were tall, slender, high-tech monstrosities. Seen in isolation, they might have a functional beauty, but here on these hills they were starkly out of place. Neil said, “I had read about these windmills, but I never guessed they could be so ugly.  How could they do this to the landscape?”

“I know,” Carmen replied bitterly, “and notice how few are turning.”

“Almost none of them.”

“Right. I’ve been watching this take place for a couple of years now. Every time I come through here there are more windmills, but I never see them turning. If we need wind energy so badly, why aren’t they making electricity instead of just standing there? If they don’t work, why are they building more of them? It makes you wonder if someone lining his pockets on government money?” see below

For a few minutes, the conversation lagged; then she said, “How do you like teaching sixth graders?” It was almost the same question she had asked thirty miles before, but this time it sounded real. Neil answered, telling her some of the feelings he had for his students, and explaining how different they were from high school students. Carmen warmed to him as he spoke. He could feel her relaxing.

Then he told her of his conversation with Pearl, and how he had grouped his readers. Carmen laughed and said, “Don’t let Bill Campbell hear about that.”


“Last year he caught hell during our Program Quality Review. They said we were tracking. We weren’t really, but one of the inspectors had an attitude problem. She was one of the new guard, and gung ho for literature based reading. Her report was so unfavorable that Bill had to do away with leveling even before we had anything to take its place.”

“I had wondered about that. You seemed to be out of synch with yourselves. You’re all set up for literature based reading, but the books aren’t literature — they’re horrible.”

“Yes, they are. We have some new materials ordered, but they haven’t come in yet.”


“No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get your hopes up. Bill only had so much money, so he only ordered for Pearl and me. He said he would order literature for sixth grade next year when Gina was ready to come back.”

After a long silence, Neil asked, “Did he come to that decision before or after he knew who was going to replace her for the year?”

“Before,” Carmen said, but he was not sure he believed her.

Paranoid! Don’t let them make you paranoid, he told himself sternly. Then he had to laugh. Don’t let them make you paranoid? Them?

“What are you laughing at,” Carmen asked, but he couldn’t answer and she looked miffed. He thought, “Serves you right.”

The rest of the trip was friendly. Neil traded stories with Carmen, telling of his boyhood and youth in Oregon, and finding out more about what it was like to grow up as the daughter of a field worker. They dealt with surfaces and first insights, speaking as if their lives had been without pain. It was not intimacy, but it was a beginning.

It had been several years since Neil had been to the Bay Area, and he was shocked at its growth. It had spilled over the first range of the foothills to fill up the Livermore Valley. All the lovely hills and pasture lands were giving way to stucco and concrete. “People are even moving as far as Modesto to find affordable homes, and commuting to the Bay Area,” Carmen said. Neil could not imagine a seventy mile commute.


Out of fairness, I have to add that the windmills did look like a big government hoax in 1988 when this was written, but today they provide much of the state’s energy. more tomorrow


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