The pick-up cruising down Highway 1 encouraged me to Eat More Kale! on a boldly printed bumper sticker. The truck was the color of eggplant with a broken-in look to it; a work truck, cared-for but long since shiny. We followed it around the Monterey Bay, past acres of strawberry fields buzzing with day workers picking ripe fruit. Past fields of tiny artichoke plants, the upcoming fall’s harvest.

We followed it past the Army surplus touting paintball supplies and the harbor where men sell freshly caught fish from their boats and brown pelicans dive-bomb for meals. Before our routes diverged at Castroville I had time to conjure a romantic fantasy of the truck’s owners – a late twenty-something couple, I decided, leasing a plot of land, trying their luck growing organic herbs and greens, making the rounds of farmer’s markets around the Bay after a morning spent sowing and harvesting.

Castroville. Home of the Central Texas BBQ where you can find the tastiest smoked beef ribs and chicken this side of the Sierra Nevadas. The dusty western ranch-style main drag probably hasn’t physically changed much since Marilyn Monroe was named Artichoke Queen in 1947. Also home of the deep-fried artichoke heart at – where else? – the Giant Artichoke Restaurant:

There was one more turn on our circuitous route to the old King’s Road, now Highway 101. Left on Espinosa, lined with more artichoke fields, the pink and purple dotted acres of the ColorSpot nursery, and this abandoned farm stand:

We were greeted at the intersection to the highway:

At Highway 101 we whizzed along past the irrigation and tractor supplies, past the towns of Gonzales and Soledad, past Foxy and Fresh Express trucks and acres of lettuces and vineyards to a pure, clear river tumbling from the east side of the Santa Lucia Mountains – the Arroyo Seco.

This is a pilgrimage we make each early summer, as often as possible, when the Arroyo Seco river looks and smells as I imagine a newly minted paradise might. Mountainsides still green, water running high and fast, a breeze wafting through the canyon ruffling tules. Toting rafts and dry bags stuffed with snacks, we rock-hop upstream, build rock totems, then lazily float back down.

The Arroyo Seco’s waters take our route in reverse to the sea, feeding these many acres of farmland along the way. It’s water that connects a favorite summer pastime to the fish and salad I might make for a meal. Water that falls into the mountains and to our plates. These are the connections I love to think about. Exhortations to “conserve our most precious resource” or to “eat locally” often beg the question “but why?” This is why.

These are not days, though, when eat more kale – any kale at all, for that matter. The traditional meal on the way home is the Salinas In-N-Out Burger for #2 animal-styles, all around.

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