I have been reading some of the writings of John Muir, the naturalist, a man who loved the wilderness as much as I do. I read his journal entries about some of the places that I have been, 150 years after Muir was there. One such place was California’s Central Valley.
This is what he saw one spring day:
“When California was wild, it was one sweet bee garden throughout its entire length, north and south, and all the way across from the snowy Sierra to the ocean . . . during the months of March, April, and May, (it) was one smooth, continuous bed of honey bloom, so marvelously rich that, in walking from one end of it to the other, a distance of more than 400 miles, your foot would press about a hundred flowers at every step . . .
The radiant, honeyful corollas, touching and overlapping, and rising above one another, glowed in the living light like a sunset sky–one sheet of purple and gold, with the bright Sacramento pouring through the midst of it from the north, the San Joaquin from the south, and their many tributaries sweeping in at right angles from the mountains . . .
Sauntering in any direction, hundreds of these happy sun-plants brushed against my feet at every step, and closed over them as if I were wading in liquid gold. The air was sweet with fragrance, the larks sang their blessed songs, rising on the wing as I advanced, . . . while myriads of wild bees stirred the lower air with their monotonous hum–monotonous yet forever fresh and sweet as everyday sunshine . . . small bands of antelopes were almost constantly in sight . . . I drifted toward the north, observing the countless forms of life thronging about me . . . (John Muir: from The Mountains of California)
This is what I saw last spring, in the same place:
Tumbleweeds and discarded plastic bags blowing up against barbed wire fences. The smell of chemicals and exhaust fumes in the air. Dirty brown air–you couldn’t see the mountains at all. The ground glittered with broken glass in the dust. Run-down depressed small towns rife with poverty–and big city bedroom communities 2 hours from work. The meandering rivers channeled in a concrete paths, delivering the lifegiving water to miles of almond groves and other agribusiness crops. The only wildlife an occasional scraggly crow picking through roadside trash.
Sure, there have to be pockets of beauty still surviving here and there, away from the freeway. I have seen such little islands of pristine beauty, where the people have tried to preserve what is left of the natural landscape, the way that God created it for all of His creatures. But they are dwarfed by the immensity of the changes in that region over the last century.
It makes my heart sad to see the devastation caused by human indifference, exploitation and greed. I am sure there are better ways to feed the population. When will we learn to be better stewards of the land?