"Don't be so eager to start hanging crepe."
That's what a petro-geologist advised after a talk I gave in Forth Worth about the impact that climate change will have on the arid Southwestern U.S. over the next century. He didn't accept NOAA's long-term projections or its short-term calculations -- and certainly didn't embrace my prediction that those living in the region will adapt to an increasingly hotter and drier climate by moving to points cooler and wetter. His last words, as he walked away, were blunt: "We're not dead yet."
The California desert's signature tree has gotten a lot of attention lately: the story of this year's record bloom (which I'm proud to say broke right here on KCET.org) has reached a global audience. And the developing narrative is that the unusual bloom can be credited to climate change.
As someone who's warned of the danger of human-created climate change since the early 1970s, you might expect me to be completely on board with this analysis. I'm not.
April 14 to 21 has been designated as "California Native Plant Week" by the California Native Plant Society, highlighting awareness and appreciation of our state's indigenous flora, through educational events, garden tours, and visits to wildflower displays. A most appropriate time, coinciding with the springtime blooms that occur this time of year.
Appreciating and growing native plants is one of my personal passions, but four years ago if you asked this city dude anything about native plants, I'd probably say that they're "probably drought-tolerant, maybe good for the environment," and then try to change the subject. If you asked me to name any actual native plants, I'd just draw a blank.
That all changed in spring of 2010, when I was tasked with organizing a large Big Sunday Weekend volunteer event in my community. The grounds of my local public library, the Los Angeles Public Library's Cahuenga Branch in East Hollywood, had turned into a neighborhood eyesore, with trash, discarded clothing and furniture, and even human waste and discarded needles being spotted around the building. Community members had longed for some sort of community clean-up, and we planned to do just that.
Rachel Carson was right: everything is connected.
Writing 51 years ago in Silent Spring, with language that is as lyrical as it is lacerating, she probed the impact of toxins in watersheds and bloodstreams, and wondered how it came to be that these lethal substances were sprayed, dusted, and dumped into nature, only to work their way inevitably, irrevocably through water, air, and food into flora and fauna, including humans.
"Who has made the decision that sets in motion these chains of poisonings, this ever-widening wave of death that spreads out, like ripples when a pebble is dropped into a still pond?" Her chilling question came with another every bit as unsettling: "Who has decided -- who has the right to decide -- for the countless legions of people who were not consulted that the supreme value is a world without insects, even though it is also a sterile world ungraced by the curving wing of a bird in flight?"
Carson's anger would be as blunt today knowing that for all the impact her book had -- and historians credit it with the banning of DDT in the United States and propelling such critical environmental legislation as the Clean Water Act into law -- its dire warnings have not fully penetrated the American consciousness.
Heading downhill yesterday toward "downtown" Joshua Tree I saw it: a gigantic pillar rising from the desert floor, slate blue-gray and covered in imbricated scales, looking like nothing so much as an improbable asparagus spear six inches in cross section. Eight or ten feet high, it wasn't there the last time I passed by -- so it'd been growing at a rate of a foot a day or so.
It was the developing stalk of a flower, growing out of one of my neighbors' Agaves.
Three months after the USDA declared that all 20 of its agencies must jettison their individual logos and adopt the generic emblem of the Department of Agriculture, it has agreed under considerable pressure to spare the U.S. Forest Service's iconic symbol, the famed Pine Tree Shield.
The good news came in a cryptic one-sentence press release that the Forest Service issued and which USDA told it to attribute to "an unnamed USDA spokesman" -- "The US Forest Service shield is exempted from the One USDA branding directive."
The rock is reassuring where it clasps my back. I have the twilight wind to strip my sweat, to soothe my skin in rippling shivers. Food I have, and drink: a cup of roasted rice green tea, a handful of crackers wrapped in seaweed.
Kessler Peak is a monolith to my east, illuminated by setting sun, the color of dried blood but paler. Blue sky deepens behind a landscape of yellow rabbitbrush incongruously blooming out of season, and the pallid smoky green of juniper and Joshua. Before I found this place, before I left the East's more verdant hues I dreamed these colors, saw them playing around the beveled panes of winter windows.
Solitude assaults me and compels me both.
It's common knowledge for Los Angeles residents to know that our water supply comes from some ambiguous place oft-referred to as "up north," without much regard as to the exact location of the source, much less the method by which it magically appears from our faucets, showers and sprinklers.
For the more historically and politically aware, we know that our water comes from various faraway sources, such as the Colorado River, but most notably (and notoriously) from California's Owens Valley -- still an unknown locality to most of us city folk, or at the very least, "that place on the way to Mammoth."
Last December, following a disappointing episode in my life, I exiled myself and sought solace in that very place, intentionally far from the big city. As a native Californian, the allure of a part of the state I had not yet been to was an extremely appealing one, and I decided to lay my hat in a town called Independence, some 220 miles north of Los Angeles. Population: 600.
As official badges go, the Forest Service's is pretty plain -- but very much to the point. At its center, a lone pine tree splits the letters U and S, letters that serve doubly to denote the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, organizations whose names are emblazoned across the top and bottom of the shield. It is a deft, clean, legible, and historic symbol, having been the agency's central logo since its establishment in 1905.
For many current and past employees, it is also a badge of honor, a reflection of their deep and abiding attachment to their one-time or present-day roles as stewards of America's national forests. So you'll understand if they get a little testy when someone proposes to mess with this sign of their lifelong devotion to the public good.
I heard the water splashing long before I saw its fall.
The sound -- a clear, thin cascade -- drew me east toward the dawn as I moved up the gravel-rough horse trail paralleling Thompson Creek diversion channel in northern Claremont. Streaming west in the concrete bed was a slow flow from the previous day's rain: I knew more about how these waters would get to the Pacific than I did about their source.
The deep ditch drops away from Thompson Creek dam, one of a number of flood-control structures built in the aftermath of the devastating 1938 flood that crashed through Claremont and much of the Pomona Valley and that wreaked havoc through the Southland. The channel cuts along the base of the foothills before turning south into the city of Pomona, where it merges with other ditches and culverts, an infrastructure that swings past Ganesha Park and Cal Poly-Pomona and then slides by nondescript warehouses and industrial parks before slipping between low-lying hills in Pomona's southwestern quadrant. As it pushes past La Puente, City of Industry, and Avocado Heights, this long-running channel finally converges with the San Gabriel River hard by the 60 and 605 freeway interchange, a multi-layered intersection of the riparian and vehicular.