Today, this column reaches a milestone. Since I began writing for the Times-Delta in January 1997, I have now written and published in this newspaper five hundred columns about the natural world that surrounds us here in central California. Roughly speaking, that amounts to more than a third of a million words that I have shared with you, my readers.
For the first ten years, while I worked for the National Park Service, these columns focused mostly on Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Since that time, I’ve wandered more widely, writing about anything that caught my interest in the natural world.
Throughout these years, to its credit, the Times-Delta has given me free rein to go wherever I felt like going. My responsibility here has been simply to find a story related to the natural world that is worth telling and to put it down in a way that makes it worth reading.
It is often said that the best way to learn something is to try to teach it. The same can be said of writing. These past seventeen years have taught me a great deal.
Much of this learning has been about the immediate subjects about which I have written. I always enjoy this kind of research. It is, in fact, one of the great pleasures of writing these columns.
But over time, I have learned many other things as well. Slowly, and with many a stumble, I have been able to assemble a broader and more complete view of the relationship here between the human and natural worlds. The resulting picture is complicated, and like all things human, full of contradictions.
Over the past one hundred and fifty years, the human residents of Tulare County have both appreciated and abused the natural world in a wide variety of ways.
We have created world-class national parks yet also elected and re-elected local officials who have called for things like denuding the Sierra Nevada of all its trees. (Yes, one of our county supervisors proposed just that barely a decade ago!)
We have created a highly productive agricultural society, yet have structured it in a such a way that there simply will not be nearly enough water for our children to sustain it.
We have worked hard to preserve our individual freedoms, but all too often have used those same hard-gained rights to deplete our neighbor’s groundwater and pollute the air we all breathe together.
The truth is that as a collective populace, the residents of Tulare County still wrestle with the realities of the natural place we have chosen to call home.
The valley portion of our county has deep, rich soils, but we have nowhere near enough water to irrigate all our acreage sustainably. Right now, we’re depending primarily on ancient, Ice-Age water we’re mining from the ground at an alarming rate.
Geography makes our valley almost uniquely susceptible to air pollution. With mountains on three sides, big cities upwind, and a mild, usually sunny climate, one could not create a better place to concentrate pollution. Yet, we complain bitterly when we are told that this fact must be dealt with if we are not to poison ourselves and our children.
To the east of our valley lands, we have some of the grandest mountain country in the forty-eight states – the ultimate source of our water. Growing on these mountains are forests that contain the largest trees in the world. Yet, embedded in these mountains is a message we generally do our best to ignore – that our climate is highly variable year-to-year and prone to prolonged periods of aridity.
These are just some of the realities the natural world seeks to share with us. Yet, for many of us, “nature” is just what goes on up in the national parks and otherwise is of little consequence to our daily lives. In this, we could not be more wrong.
What have I learned while I’ve wrestled to write five hundred columns? That in the end, it is futile and ultimately self-defeating for a society to think of nature as a separate and unimportant part of creation. The natural world and the human world are ultimately the same world. In these columns, my job is to seek out the details that allow us to see how the two fit together.
And for those of you who have made it this far – thanks for reading. In the end, it is you that make this all worth doing. “See you” in two weeks.
© Wm. Tweed