An abstract landscape of brightly colored shapes.

Three Scenes from the 5

An abstract landscape of brightly colored shapes.
Rising Sun, Federico Herrero

Three Scenes from the 5
a writer’s sketchbook, June 2020


For hours and hours
we are
have been
will be
driving down the Interstate 5—

Traversing this long valley of the year, on and off the straight and constant road.

1. Orchard

She stands in the middle of her orchard.

She closes her eyes. She is so still and rootless that she thinks the wind might blow her through the grid of trees.

Her almond trees are producing. She walks through them to see about the growing, the irrigation, sometimes she touches the bark. A few steps between each trunk makes it easy to compare: This one is doing better than that one. And why would this be? Distribution of sun, water, soil. Her body, moving through at a regular pace.

Almonds grow full around and above her. She is a farmer with nearly no farm work to do. She once had initiatives, business interests, bright ideas. All in the form of signs: a “U-Pick, U-Eat” billboard on the side of the road. It could change everything while changing nothing at all. But not a highway exit for miles. Walking or standing still, she can almost hear the quivering growth. Cars pass in the near distance, neither arriving nor departing. A liquid current running beneath the dry ticking of leaves.

She admires the regularity and the organic variation within this grid of trees. It is algebra, problems of multiplication and division, calculated efficiency, a coordinate system tapered at the ends where the orchard wedges into the highway. It is a field of immaterial things too—blue slanted shadows in parallel bars. As she walks, she imagines that instead of moving through it, it—the orchard—rakes through her. It is being pulled across her like a comb. She feels its wide-toothed tug. It runs through her and keeps going behind her, detangling her life. It leaves her empty and lightheaded.

She bores into herself, tapping the aphorisms she is supposed to believe. If a tree grows in an orchard and no one is there to witness it—it still grows. Something obscurely recognized. Some motion at the edge of her vision. And then—no, that is not someone come to join her here. It was just a flash of light through the boughs.

2. Sign

Had enough?

And I’m hooked by the wide, appealing billboard, apropos of nothing. In a flash, it greets me, it includes me. Easy short answer, fill-in-the-blank Americana. I can answer it. So can you. Yes, I’ve had enough. Of what, I cannot say. But the question is generous in that way, a catch-all that acknowledges my waiting, my wanting something long-deferred.

Once I was in the cab of a U-Haul with my dad. My mom and sister were tailing us in the Nissan, our first new car, and we were on our way from one home to the next, everything we owned between us. I was humming something to myself, because my dad preferred to drive in silence. And then, I don’t know why, but I chose to open the door.

Had I had enough? I was not wearing a seatbelt. Or the seatbelt was too large for my girl frame. My dad shot his large hand out and grabbed me by my t-shirt. Not before I dipped down to look, with wonder, at the asphalt below me. We were moving so fast we appeared not to be moving at all.

I think of my child self, my little sister, and the particular satisfaction we took in the summers when we gave ourselves the task of killing ants. Pinched between our fingers, pain and death fit neatly inside each other. Pain and Death were total, simultaneous, and small. There was no outsized pain, and there was no excess of dying. Ants like a little bit of lint rolled off the finger.

No one asked us to kill them with our hands. The sprays had been sprayed, the poisons left in the corners of the house. And still, thin black lines trailed over the white painted walls—it was inevitable, an annual arrival. And so we diligently pressed our thumbs to the wall. We had had enough.

3. Truck

I, too, am a vehicle but can sporadically become landscape.

You should know, I am never more at peace than when I’ve become an obstruction. I am never driving as smoothly or as purposefully as when I’m being tailed. Like a platelet in the blood stream, I move, ready to clot. A flash of grey. Behind me, I see a sturdy Subaru, like a fish gilded by water. I confirm what I already know in the side mirror. Behind the Subaru, a Ford. This is the real culprit. I am in the left lane, the faster lane, the passing lane.

A simple problem: when two objects are in motion, the perception of speed is relative. The speed of the faster object is determined against the slower object’s speed. Sometimes, the slower object appears not to be moving at all. Think about that for a moment. There is no fast object without a slow object against which it moves.

I’ll start to go a little faster—not because they’re forcing my hand. I’ll start to drift over the broken white line. Someone told me a long time ago that each dash measures ten feet long—did you know?—and sometimes I still look down and try to see each foot of it. I slow down to measure the distance. Now the tension breaks, my rear left wheel clears the line. For them, it’s a revelation, the opportunity they’ve been waiting for, at last. I’ll let them go and wish them godspeed. They’ll rush through without so much as a wave. But I know how they are grateful, for they are going fast again.


Justine Yan
is completing an MFA in Poetry with a graduate emphasis in Asian American Studies at the University of California, Irvine. She is the Poetry Editor of the Faultline Journal of Art and Letters, and was selected as a 2020-21 Fulbright Research Award recipient in Guangdong, China.

Federico Herrero, seen from the back, in a corner of a room painting the wall in bright yellow.FEDERICO HERRERO

Federico Herrero
is one of today’s leading Central American artists. He was awarded with the Golden Lion for Young Artists at the 2001 Venice Biennial and represented Latin America at the Biennial in 2009. He has widely exhibited internationally, among others at the MCA – Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Witte de With, Rotterdam; The Guggenheim Museum, New York; 21st Century Art Museum, Tokyo; Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver and Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris. Herrero’s work is strongly influenced by ever changing relation between the landscape and urban structures, and the way painting exists as an autonomous entity where is hard to define where it begins and where it ends. Not only working on canvas, he also paints on walls, facades, playgrounds and city sidewalks, thus critically reflecting on modern life between the built and the natural.