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Maria Sestito

Maria Sestito is the public safety reporter for the Napa Valley Register.

My boyfriend’s dream is to own a house by the lake. Not just any lake – one near his favorite uncle’s house up in Clearlake.

“Clearlake.” I hear it and think of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. I was a freshman living in Boston the first time I read it as part of an Environmental Ethics course. I didn’t know much about California and definitely had never heard of this lake before.

I encountered Carson’s work again just last fall. It was assigned reading and I decided to listen to it instead. It was my first audiobook.

Ryan, my current boyfriend, and I met pretty early on in my first semester at Berkeley and when he told me about having family up in Clearlake, I immediately asked “Is that the same one that Rachel Carson wrote about?”

He didn’t seem familiar with her, so I continued, “You know, the one that was polluted because mosquitos were bothering the tourists.”

Still nothing. He didn’t know about the pesticide use that began in the 1940s or the gnat problem – they were gnats, not mosquitoes – that triggered it. He didn’t know about the effect the pesticide use had on wildlife in the area.

His parents have a home there and no one seems to be bothered by this history. In fact, he tells me that the lake is safe to swim in. That may be true – I haven’t done enough research on it to know, but that doesn’t mean I want to swim in it. I’m still in shock that I live so close to this polluted lake.

This happens to me all the time in California. I pass the exit for the Berkeley Marina and think of Laci Peterson. I re-read Maya Angelou and realize that I’ve been to the same places in San Francisco. I pass by the Pinterest Headquarters and remember – that’s right – this is where so many of the tech companies are.

I used to think it was my dream to live in California – to be somewhere so different than my East Coast roots. This week I realized, though, that this isn’t my dream. This week I realized that I don’t have dreams. I have goals.

(A house on Pesticide Lake, by the way, is not one of them.)

Is there a difference between dreams and goals? I’m not sure. I think of dreams as lofty and unattainable but having a house on the lake might not be that far off for my boyfriend. Is that part of his plan or does he just enjoy the fantasy? Would actually owning a home there be as great as he imagines? Are dreams meant to be achieved or are they meant to stay dreams?

By this time next year, I’ll have earned my master’s degree from UC Berkeley and, simultaneously, I’ll have achieved every goal I set for myself.

You could say that I’m living my dream and, ya know what, it’s polluted here too.

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