through the valley

by Kristen

I love driving through California’s central valley. I love the vineyards and groves. I love the ranches and dairies and processing plants. I love the train tracks and irrigation canals. And I love the ascent from the valley floor into the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

But this trip I gasped in despair more than in wonder. Roadside, family-run fruit stands sat shuttered. Dead and dying orchards dotted the horizon, and too many sun-crisped fields highlighted the drought’s devastation. In the mountains, the evergreen forest was strewn with rust-hued trees—still standing, though rendered lifeless by voracious bark beetles.

Climbing higher, whole valleys and mountainsides scorched and blackened by last summer’s 237-square-mile Rough Fire gave an eerie, apocalyptic stillness to the summer air. Work crews cut down dead trees . . . but they only remove the ones in danger of falling on the road. Tens of millions wait for gravity to bring them down.

Ongoing drought, invasive insects, bone-dry vegetation and record-setting fires conspired—and continue conspiring—to alter the landscape.

Yet even in the bleakness there is beauty. Tender undergrowth pokes through charred brush. Dry meadows rustle at the wind’s slightest provocation. New life sprouts on seared trunks. Hawks and ravens soar on warm updrafts. Wildflowers splash droplets of color across the muted terrain. Mountain streams tumble into lakes.

Different . . . and the same.

Beauty remains.



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