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Heaven on earth: Summer in Manteca

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POSTED August 3, 2010 2:45 a.m.
The air just before dawn in Manteca during the summer is pure heaven.

There’s freshness with every breath that is cool and sweet. Save for those finishing up delivering newspapers and the initial trickle of commuters heading west in a race against the sun rising over John  Muir’s beloved Range of Light, the streets and country roads are devoid of traffic.

It’s the best time to jog past almond orchards, vineyards and open fields in the Manteca countryside.

The birds aren’t timid about cheerfully fluttering about as they go about catching the proverbial worm. Young almond orchards irrigated by flooding provide a visual shimmer that is enhanced by just enough added moisture in the air as you jog to give your senses a pleasure that no manufactured “rain fresh” scent can give.

With luck you can catch the morning star fading in the east as the sun starts its ascent to drench sun-kissed California in warmth.

I have no real complaint about the heat of the day. Sure, I’ll bellyache when it tops 100 degrees but other than that, what is there to complain about?

The humidity is usually low. The dry heat isn’t oppressive. And it isn’t like the Midwest or South where you can drip but never dry.

At home at night, I resist the urge to turn on the air conditioning. There really is no need except on those rare nights the valley air has gone stagnant and nothing rustles.

It’s not because I want to keep my PG&E bill below $30 a month - which I do. It’s just that I don’t want to waste the gentle Delta breezes that make the temperatures feel cooler than they really are.

This is the time to open windows and circulate the fresh air with the help of fans.

It’s a funny thing. I grew up in the valley heat thinking I’d die without air conditioning. Now using it - outside of work when you’re usually not dressed in a way to live in the heat - seems at times to be downright sinful.

I’m fortunate to have mature trees helping cool down my home. It makes catching some more ZZZ’s on the patio after an early morning jog or jaunt to the gym pure delight.

There’s something downright decadent about snuggling under a quilt on a day where the mercury will reach the mid-90s.

It is a pleasant reminder of the days growing up and sleeping out in the back yard at my cousin’s ranch on the edge of 140 acres of scrub oak where cattle roamed or when I was a tad more adventurous in my 30s and wouldn’t think twice about sleeping out in the open by wilderness camping in the desert.

It’s a blissful feeling that you can’t get with air conditioning.

Perhaps it is my valley upbringing that makes me argue the four seasons - and there really are four in the Central Valley - are by far better than anywhere else I’ve visited.

I’m half tempted some days to block out four hours in the early afternoon and enjoy the gift of having a day taking in the glorious Central Valley heat.

It’s a luxury I can’t afford at the moment.

But if I could, I’d cycle out past the almond orchards, the open fields north of Escalon and toward the shaded canopy of Orange Blossom Road to Knights Ferry.

Then I’d come back in the heat of the day along Highway 108/120 and then push myself from Oakdale to Manteca along the shoulder of Highway 120.

Some whizzing by at 65 mph may think someone cycling in the heat of a summer day is nuts. But they’re the ones who are nuts, not me.

There is nothing sweeter than working up a sweat on a summer’s day in the Central Valley.

Because with every breath you take and every glance you make, you’re taking in the most fertile ground on earth.

Summer in Manteca is heaven with a tad touch of Dante’s fire to remind you that to really savor what you’ve been blessed with on this earth you have to have a yardstick - in this case heat - to judge it against.

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