There is a book I love that I first encountered when I worked at the Book Garden in Exeter: “Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape,” edited by Barry Lopez. It is a dictionary, essentially, of geographic and geologic terms used to describe the earth’s surface. I turned to it when the words “ephemeral stream” surfaced as the title for this week’s thoughts on the state of our communities, like I would turn to the Bible to find the full quotation for the words “fear not.”
Home Ground gives this definition: “A stream or reach of a stream that flows only during and for short periods following precipitation is known as an ephemeral stream. Also called a stormwater channel, it receives no extensive long-term water supply from melting snow or other sources, and its channel is, at all times, above the water table.”
My adopted hometown of Lindsay is in the watershed of an ephemeral stream, Lewis Creek. The other towns in the Sun-Gazette’s readershed—Woodlake, Ivanhoe, Exeter, Farmersville—sit on the edges of the Kaweah River’s Four Creeks, and Visalia, our county seat, sits smack dab in the middle. The four cities served by Mid Valley Times—Sanger, Orange Cove, Reedley and Dinuba—are placed equally advantageously along the mighty Kings. Both the Kaweah and Kings are perennial streams, although portions of their stream beds might go dry during extreme drought under natural (undammed) conditions. The rain and snow that is sown in the mountains is harvested in the valley through these two major rivers.
Sad news this past month has me wondering if my town is, in the longer view, simply an ephemeral stream. The pending closure of our last locally-owned packinghouse, Sierra Citrus, hangs like black crepe above the news of another closing church once manned by people who packed their oranges at Sierra. This history of the community contributions of both organizations seems doomed to be lost. No water will be flowing through those channels in a very short time, having dwindled to a trickle. Without the literal fruit of the land moving through the town’s streambanks, we are high and dry, though no one seems to notice the cause.
You could say we don’t deserve to be here, thinking longer term. We drink from the San Joaquin River courtesy of the American taxpayers’ development of the Friant-Kern Canal and Millerton Lake. Lindsay was about to dry up and blow away before the Feds got through the chaos created by the big boys on the Westside and succeeded in getting funds appropriated for the Central Valley Project. Maybe being a bedroom community for commuters to jobs elsewhere is as much as we can really expect, given the loss of connection to our resource base. Maybe the flood of good times provided by Sunkist and Lindsay Olive (“a good town, a great olive”) was a one-time event.
There’s another book I’m reaching for at this moment, like for a life raft. It’s a small novel by French author Jean Giono called “Second Harvest.” It is a story about a French mountain village emptied of all but its last two occupants, an old woman and a middle-age single man. When the old woman wanders off, it seems as if the man and his village are doomed. But the sisters of mercy bring him a wife, and she with her homemaking instincts begins to help repopulate the emptied houses. Where there is land there is hope. People always need a place to make home.
If I were asked, what I would propose to the Lindsay city fathers and mothers is that we find some way to get the fruit of the land to start moving through the town again. Then the packinghouses and the churches, as well as the empty storefronts and bars, will have some reason for being here. We must find a way to make the stream of fruit or other produce perennial, not ephemeral.
Trudy Wischemann is a land lover who writes. You can send her your watershed thoughts c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.