“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can let alone.” Henry David Thoreau
“There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.” Robert Frost
I am a photographer who has been teaching and working at Stanford and living in Palo Alto since 1972: 41 years in a city I love, more years than I have spent anywhere else in my life. I co-authored, The Stanford Album, A Photographic History 1886-1946. The first chapter describes the area when Leland Stanford Junior University was founded. It was “set among wild grainfields and paddocks”.
Now known as Silicon Valley, it was formerly referred to as “the Valley of the Heart’s Delight” because of the myriad fruit orchards and flowering trees. One of the last orchards around is the Palo Alto Orchard on Maybell Avenue, last owned by an Italian family. With their permission, I was able to harvest beautiful Blenheim apricots every July to make preserves and chutney.
The destiny of this 2.4 acre orchard with about 100 trees is currently being determined. Originally, all the land in our entire region were family orchards. Many of us would like to save this historic last orchard in our town and develop a heritage orchard and visitor center.
Before the Hewletts and the Packards, before the Jobs and the Andreessens forged Silicon Valley, this area was abundant with lush fruit orchards surrounded by foothills. The transition to a valley of chip manufacturers has been rapid, almost too rapid to avoid the total erasing of our past. Change is, for sure, inevitable and progress occasionally moves us forward. But, it is also destroying us. As our own Wallace Stegner has so eloquently written in his Wilderness Letter of Dec 3, 1960:
Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clear air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence, so that never again will Americans be free in their own country from the noise, the exhausts, the stinks of human and automotive waste….
I urge everyone to read his entire memorable letter so poignant from our perspective of 2013:
The orchards were man-made and replaced much of the wilderness that Stegner refers to. But looking back from our contemporary concrete jungle to the millions of acres of orchards with flowering fruit trees that was this land, we now pray for any garden of green in almost any form to provide relief from the asphalt and the cement. And, it behooves us to preserve a part of that history.
Why not memorialize this legacy by keeping the Palo Alto Orchard as an orchard of trees instead of an orchard of houses?
It is painful to see our communities morph into cookie-cutter cities without a shred of their singular past. It is painful to read Stegner and understand that what he was trying to prevent is already overwhelming us…in Palo Alto and many other towns around. It should be possible to move forward to meet the needs of our citizens for shelter, to be attentive to the needs of our seniors, and still hold on to features that cherish our history and preserve our aesthetics. Sadly, it seems that developments are erasing our natural environment and these links to the valley’s history.
Why not keep the Maybell orchard as a community orchard of apricot trees and other stone fruit trees with a small center about the agricultural history of this valley? -- the same idea that frames the Pearson Arastradero Preserve with its center about the area’s wildlife or something similar to the heritage orchards in Saratoga and Los Altos. As residents of Palo Alto we must take control of our town and legacy and plan for the kind of development WE want.
This idea would extend the Juana Briones Park and be so educational for all the schools, some seven, that are within a very few miles of its location. Our children should understand their own legacy and appreciate the agricultural heritage that is here, that belongs to the entire State of California as well. In understanding the deep roots of the orchards, we can connect more passionately to the history of our land and thus add more continuity to our lives.