THE GREAT CENTRAL VALLEY
Michael Ellis

Ah it winter and time for my annual pilgrimages into the Great Central Valley of California to see an extraordinary spectacle, the over-wintering of millions of birds. At any rate that’s my excuse but I really just revel in the Valley itself.

For thousands of years elk, bear, deer, otters, and uncountable waterfowl thrived in the Valley and supported the densest concentration of humans north of Mexico. It was a cornucopia of life. Still is, though the composition of species has changed dramatically.

But the poor natives didn’t last long against the onslaught of Gold Rush settlers. Levees were built and wetlands diked and drained. Rice, wheat, millet, and corn soon surpassed the value of all the gold in California’s economy. By 1870 virtually all the large animals were gone and the Valley was transformed into the richest agricultural land on earth.

This wealth has created many millionaire farmers and has attracted a whole bunch of people seeking a better life. I read that the Central Valley is the most ethnically diverse non-urban area in the world. I believe it, last Saturday night I was sitting in the Club 99 bar in downtown Williams. At the table next to me were five people whose parents had come from Mexico, India, Armenia, Ireland, and Cambodia. These friends were sharing a beer after work and listening to a two-piece country music band. The whole scene looked like a world harmony poster for the United Nations.

To really see the Valley you first gotta get off the freeway and onto the old roads, Highway 45, State Rt. 113. There is beauty everywhere, the dawn light glistening off the electric power lines that stretch to the distant horizon, a golden eagle soaring over a crop duster, 8 shiny grain silos in a neat little row feeding railroad hopper cars, ghostly silhouettes of sandhill cranes floating in a dense tule fog, muskrat tracks in drainage ditches. It’s not LA and it’s not San Francisco, it’s the muddy brown face of a part of California I love.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

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November 18, 2010