By Trudy Wischemann

It’s been a week and a half since the fire on Rocky Hill. I drive Myer Ave., the road that skirts the fire’s south edge, most days under normal circumstances, but since the fire I can’t seem to keep away. Once the embers died out, the draw has not been fear of fire, but concern for the future of that beautiful slope.

The charred fence has me particularly concerned. Portions of it were so old and weak that it barely held the cows when the Gills used that pasture. For a couple of years now, though, no cattle have grazed there. Last spring a new well was dug up near the base of the rocks, I believe. The winds of change have been blowing there for awhile.

My attachment to Rocky Hill—our Rocky Hill, not Porterville’s, or any other Rocky Hill, for there are many – stems in part from a dream. Before I moved here, I dreamed I saw myself riding a bicycle up to Rocky Hill as if on a map. Since moving here, there have been other dreams where I was riding or flying up toward the curve in the slope that opens south toward Lindsay. Most importantly, it was the first place geographer Bill Preston took me to introduce me to the Tulare Lake Basin, because the whole history of this place is imaginable there.

The value of the place to us, its nearest neighbors, is larger than one might think. It’s where the valley floor and the tippytoes of the mountains meet. It’s our first incline, the place where the roads begin to follow the land’s contours and not the township and range system surveyed into place in the 1860s. It’s where a very different way of life—cattle raising vs. raising oranges, olives and other tree fruit—sits adjacent to ours, an older way of life that predates the establishment of dams and canals for irrigation, a way of life captured and capitalized on in our cowboy movies so completely that we identify it as the Old West. 

And our songs. “Oh, give me a home, where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope play…” I’ve sung that song since I was able to form words. And I think that longing for home—home on the range, where intimacy with the land in its more primitive state, with the other beings of Creation who once lived there, too—is what calls us to head toward the hills. To leave our irrigated, scheduled, seemingly more complicated lives controlling and exterminating the other beings of Creation when they get in the way, at least for a few hours.

Of course, on the north side of Rocky Hill’s towered peak, under pressure of increasing human traffic claiming the right to expose themselves to this homing call, there are plans now to widen the road. Given the insecurity to all users of the road as it is, including the landowners from irreverent trespassers, I suppose this is a good idea. For you Exeterites who make use of the slopes for jogging or pedaling your heart into greater condition, I hope this helps. But for those of you to whom the attraction is some kind of return to nature and imagining a home on the range, I hope you suffer little loss.

You road developers better stay away from the south side, though, or you’ll be driving over my body with your bulldozers. I need that curvy road with the old fence and the cows that get out every once in awhile. The charred fence is telling me I may not have that again. Anybody want to help rebuild it?

Trudy Wischemann is a rural advocate who writes. You can send her your thoughts on Rocky Hill c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit and leave a comment there.

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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