The gate is locked – the beauty and bleakness of California’s Central Valley- a new project

The temperatures are higher now and the flowers are popping, at least here in Central California. It feels warm, hopeful, and refreshing after a long, cold, damp winter – a winter unlike any other in the past fifteen years I’ve lived in the Sacramento area.

During the past four months, power outages were frequent, electricity bills were high, and the house was cold and dark. I sat here at night listening to the fearless winds’ whispers, and in the morning, when I saw my neighbors’ frozen rooftops, I did not want to get out of bed. But I knew that eventually, the bleakness of the season would give way to the color, warmth, and vibrancy of spring, because seasons do not last forever.

Contrasting with the earths’ seasons, the seasons of our lives do not come back. Leaving our parents’ house, graduate school, a job, a city, and finally, life, are more definitive. Even when a “coming back” is possible, it may feel more like a new discovery, because when we leave a place for a long time, we change, and the place we leave behind also changes. Close friends become strangers, family members age, move away, die.

Walking in the fields of Fairfield, CA, after a heavy rain, I saw a closed gate to a “private property.” Sometimes a photo is just an observation. “Gee, I’m glad they locked the gate,” I said to myself. I wonder where they went, if anyone will ever return, and what’s there to return to, beyond a flooded entrance to a locked gate without a fence, a sign that reads that the property is private, and the bleakness and beauty of California’s Central Valley beyond it.

I took the FEATURED IMAGE above on April 5, 2023 in the Rush Ranch Open Space, at 56mm, f/18, 1/100s, ISO 400. I passed around the gate and in the partly flooded fields I found the first bloom of a mustard plant.


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18 thoughts on “The gate is locked – the beauty and bleakness of California’s Central Valley- a new project

  1. Steve Schwartzman says:

    You’ve infused your post with musings, nostalgia, and a tinge of sadness. I’m glad for your sake that spring is at hand. You’ve reminded me of a poem by Rosalia de Castro, whose Spanish you’ll probably understand most of:

    (There’s an English translation if you scroll way down at

    My first thought upon glimpsing your photograph was to look more closely to see if I could detect a barbed wire fence connected to the gate. There seems to be a remnant on each side. The fact that you walked around the gate tells us the wires themselves are gone (or perhaps fallen to the ground).


    1. Alessandra Chaves says:

      Beautiful poems. I put the first one on chatgtp and asked who wrote it. That’s the answer the machine gave me. “the original poem is titled “Hora tras hora” and was written by the Spanish poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1836-1870). He is considered one of the most important poets of Spanish Romanticism and is particularly known for his lyric poetry.” I’ve been testing this AI with mixed results. The wire fence was mostly down. It is such a strong gate, it will outlive any fence!


      1. Steve Schwartzman says:

        If I remember correctly, the first Spanish poetry I ever read was by Bécquer, who was indeed a great poet of the Romantic era, even if he didn’t write the poem in question. You’ve provided yet another example of AI’s fallibility.

        You’re probably right about that sturdy gate outliving any fence.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Mark Wade says:

    Love your gate piece Alessandra, and your appreciation for the extraordinary winter/spring we are having. Those clouds behind the gate tell a promising story. Just lovely


  3. Steve Gingold says:

    I did the same thing Steve did, looking for wire on either side. For human passage the lock doesn’t seem like it would keep anyone out, (you mentioned going around a gate but it seems that was at Rush Ranch and not this gate).but it is probably more to keep vehicles away. It’s hard to look at a meadow or field or prairie full of flowers and think of it as bleak but when one adds her/his feelings a sadness can pervade and color our impression beyond the flowers.


    1. Alessandra Chaves says:

      The Central Valley looks very bleak to me. In the spring it’s a little different, but give it a couple of months and we have brown grass, 100 F and cracked soil. Most local photographers avoid the valley for photography, we either go to the ocean (2 hours away) or the mountains (2 hours away).

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Steve Heap says:

    Very intriguing photo – very well seen! I also looked for the fence that the gate was part of and seeing none makes it even more intriguing. Then it is open and flooded but leads onto private land that looks no different on each side of the gate. Which side is private? Lots to think about!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. petespringerauthor says:

    Things have finally begun to move into spring mode for us up in Eureka. We used to get snow once every 5-10 years. Yet, it’s already snowed (only once with a significant amount) about six times this year. I love your black and white photos.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. shoreacres says:

    Something about this photo kept nagging at me. Finally, I decided it was a strange sort of humor. Some people I know would look at the gate, the chain, and the sign, and immediately turn to leave, griping about not being able to visit what lay beyond. Others would look a little more closely, see the absence of a fence, and walk right around.

    It took me a while to find it, but there’s a passage in Marcel Proust’s In Seach of Lost Time that seems to me to fit:

    “We do not succeed in changing things according to our desire, but gradually our desire changes. The situation that we hoped to change because it was intolerable becomes unimportant. We have not managed to surmount the obstacle, as we were absolutely determined to do, but life has taken us round it, led us past it, and then if we turn round to gaze at the remote past, we can barely catch sight of it, so imperceptible has it become.”

    Liked by 1 person

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