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« Blue Highways: Klamath Falls, Oregon | Main | Blue Highways: Bieber, California »

Blue Highways: Tulelake, California

Unfolding the Map

We stop for groceries in Tulelake, California with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM).  That leads me to expound on how I hate shopping. I actually write about that.  It's kind of pathetic, but I also write about tule fog and Japanese internment camps.  It's about all you can do when all LHM does is stop for groceries.  Try the map to see where this last stop in California is located.  Oh, and don't forget to turn on the Led Zeppelin while you read!

Book Quote

"I never found Lookout. In dry and dusty Tulelake, I bought groceries..."

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 1

Tulelake Public Library. Photo at the website of the Siskiyou County Library. Click on photo to go to site.

Tulelake, California

I hate shopping - it really doesn't matter what kind.  There are degrees to my shopping hate, however.  Grocery shopping is probably lower on my list of shopping hates than others.  At the top - clothes shopping.  I do it rarely.  If I have to shop for clothes, I make sure I know exactly what I want.  I walk into the mall/department store, go right to a rack that looks like it has something close to what I want, and pick something out.  If I have to try it on, I just want to make sure it fits.  Then, I choose between the two or three items that I have, discard the rest, pay, and get out.  It might me a half hour at most.

I can't go into a store or mall, like many people do, and spend an entire afternoon or day there.  I can't allow myself to try on dozens of items, even stuff that I know I won't get, because it looks interesting or good.  I may go an entire year without shopping for clothes, or longer.  If my mom or wife gets me something that I can make work, I'll wear it until it has worn out.

Grocery shopping is a little different.  At least with groceries, I usually have a list, and I can check the items off the list one by one and see a physical manifestation of my internal misery or boredom counting down.  At least, with grocery shopping, I can see an endpoint to the process.  What constantly rankles me in grocery shopping is when I'm at a store where I'm unfamiliar with where the items are located, or when the store rearranges its offerings.  That adds time.  I actually take time on my first two or three trips through the store to mentally catalog where items are located so that when I come back, I can cut my time at the store down.  I also work out the best routes through the store so that I minimize having to go back to look for something.  I'd rather not grocery shop, but when I must I can live with it.

I've never understood how people can spend so much time in stores and like it!  For me, being in a store is akin to being in a dental office.  I'd just rather be somewhere else, no matter how nice the people helping me are being, no matter how much my comfort is being attended to.

Shopping aside, you may wonder what the name Tulelake actually means.  LHM provides no clue because, probably like I might feel, he simply gets his groceries and gets out of town.  Somehow he missed Lookout, California even though he drove right past it, but there has been a lot on his mind.

The name Tulelake comes from "tule" (pronounced "too-lee") which is a derivative of the Spanish "tulare," and it means a type of grass that grows in the water along the shoreline of a body of water such as a pond or a lake.  California's Tulare County was named after this particular grass, and in fact, Tulare Lake in Central California near Fresno was once the largest freshwater lake in the United States west of the Great Lakes.  I say "was" because a century of irrigation and diverting river flow dried up the lake, which occasionally comes back during periods of high rains and or a lot of runoff out of the Sierras.

I always heard of what they called "tule fog," which is considered a real road hazard down near Fresno.  This thick fog blankets the Central Valley and has been known to cause multiple car pileups on I-5.  In a way, though, I have always missed the fog that I grew up with.  The fog I am familiar with was not the tule fog but rather ocean fog that would settle in over my town often in the early evenings.  Sometimes that fog was so thick you could barely see 100 feet.  I've heard that tule fog is like that, very thick.  Fog has always given me a strange, if cold, sense of comfort.  I've felt enveloped in a protective cocoon when I'm in fog.  I don't get much fog where I live now, in Albuquerque.

One other thing about Tulelake that LHM missed.  It was the site of a POW camp during World War II for Italian and German prisoners of war, and it was the location of a controversial "relocation" camp for Japanese internees.  It was extremely notorious because it was used specifically to segregate Japanese internees who refused to swear loyalty to the United States or who had aroused the suspicions of the US government.  These internees were later sent to other permanent camps in Wyoming and Utah.  Most of the internees were threatened with deportation, but a civil rights attorney who took their cases managed to regain most internees' citizenships.  Notable people interned in the Tulelake War Relocation Center were Pat Morita of Happy Days and Karate Kid fame, and George Takei of Star Trek fame along with other notable artists, musicians, politicians, and athletes.

The forced internment of thousands of American citizens on the basis of their ethnicity and race is unfortunately not new nor isolated.  Every time we are in conflict, we face similar circumstances, whether we are referring to slavery, concentration camps at Andersonville in the Civil War, to mistreatment of prisoners in every conflict up through the so-called War on Terror.  I wish that American values had stopped slavery from happening long before it was abolished, that immigrants over the course of our history were treated better and as potential contributors, not detriments, to the United States, and that we didn't take the easy way out of profiling certain groups within our country as automatic enemies during times of conflict.  I often wish the US lived up to its own lofty ideals.  But, in previous posts, I also wrote that mistakes and flaws, and the realization of them, make people better and stronger and willing to correct them.  I want to believe that the US collectively has learned from past mistakes and used them to become a better nation.  I hope I will continue to be proved right as the US moves through its historical highs and lows.

I don't think that there is a way to tie grocery shopping, tule fog and Japanese internment together in a neat little, inspirational or deep package.  So I won't, and just leave these scattered bits of recollection and reflection as they are.

Musical Interlude

I've been looking for a good place to play this song, and since this is the last Blue Highways post about California, I'll put it here.  Whenever I hear this song, I get a wistfulness about my home state.  It has problems, big problems, and my hometown seems more dangerous with a couple of high profile murders recently.  But it's where I grew up.  When one is young, one dreams a lot...and this song captures my dreamy wisftfulness.  Besides, I like songs in minor keys.  So enjoy Led Zeppelin's live version of Going to California.


If you want to know more about Tulelake

Lava Beds National Monument
Tulelake Chamber of Commerce
Tule Lake Committee
Wikipedia: Tulelake

Next up:  Klamath Falls, Oregon

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