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by Ann Williams

Kern-Kaweah Chapter Of The Sierra Club


by Ann Williams

August, 2001
Internet Edition

This month's on-line Midgebuzzings piece is taken from an article written for The Bakersfield Californian by Elizabeth Saba and Ann Williams. Those of you who are readers outside the Bakersfield area may need to be aware of our problem with the Kern River and may want to be aware of similar problems in you own parks along your waterways.

There is a new word in the vocabulary of all of us who share the beauties and benefits of the Kern River. It is RIVERCARE, and it signifies the concern and the love we have for the Kern and for its surroundings. The need for active involvement in care of the river along its entire length, and especially where it runs through Hart Park, has brought together many people in the community who have expressed an eager willingness to help, both with cleanup of the riverbank, and with education of the community in the critical importance of keeping the river clean.

The Kern River is Bakersfield's greatest natural asset. It begins very gently high in the Sierra Nevada in creeks that are fed by the meltoff from winter snows. These rushing streams make their way downward through clean and beautiful wilderness watersheds with combined and cumulative force to become the South and North Forks, which meet at Isabella and form the lake that stores water for farming, provides water sport entertainment, and draws fishing enthusiasts in great numbers. Of all the rivers in the United States, the Kern has been among the most famous for its water quality because it comes to us mainly from undisturbed wilderness. It is the primary source of drinking water for the city of Bakersfield, and the very reason for growth in agriculture, industry and community life.

Now this precious river, which has sustained us since the first settlers arrived and which continues to enhance the quality of our lives, is in need of our help. Many of us have forgotten, or perhaps have never realized, that even so mighty a force of nature as a rushing river can only be as great as the people whom it serves. If we abuse it by polluting its banks with garbage, we abuse ourselves and each other, and walk away from our chance for greatness just as we walk away from the trash we leave behind.

In recent weeks a growing number of people have responded to that call for help and to the opportunity to serve our community. We understand that park personnel, who are dedicated to keeping the parks safe and clean, are overwhelmed by sheer numbers of visitors and by a reduction in ranger and custodial staff. In fact, the ranger staff, which is responsible for the area from Lake Isabelle to Hart Park, has been reduced in recent years, because of competition for funds, from 2l to a mere 8! We have also learned that because of a state judicial ruling in 1994, prison inmates who want to do so, can no longer earn time-credit for service to communities such as cleanup of parks and highways. So far we have not been informed of the reason for that decision, but we know that it has resulted in dirtier highways and parks all over the state, and also in jail bed space being occupied longer by less serious offenders. We hope that this decision can be revisited and perhaps rescinded to the benefit of many California communities. But in the meantime, we are ready to help park staff in every way we can, primarily by pursuing possibilities for greater public education, and by pitching in with gloves, custodial pickup "grabbers" and sacks as we scour the banks of the river for litter

One of the most serious sanitation problems in recent years has resulted from the use and abuse of disposable diapers. They are found in parking lots, along roadways and especially in parks. Volunteers for cleanup along the river bank at Hart Park have faced this problem and doing something about it. One volunteer, in a small popular beach area, picked up three sacks of abandoned diapers for a total of 75! Some of those unsavories were actually in the water or near enough to be immersed in it by a good wind. It is clear to us that this is not merely an aesthetic problem; it is a health problem in the extreme. Certainly RIVERCARE volunteers use custodial implements for pickups, wear gloves and masks, and take every precaution to protect our own health. But, try as we might, we are mystified by the behavior of people who leave the job to us. We believe that part of our task is to understand, and then to see whether we can help others learn how they can keep our river clean, safe and beautiful for the beautiful children who inherit it.

July, 2001
Internet Edition

On a hot Wednesday in late May several of us drove to a designated point on the road to Sequoia National park for a rendezvous with other Sierra Club people from around the state. We had been called to demonstrate solidarity of agreement in opposition to the energy policies of the Bush Administration, several of whose members, including the president, were scheduled to motor by on their way down from the park. There were some twenty or thirty of us who were sufficiently dedicated (or deranged, depending upon your point of view) to stand four hours in the blazing sun for the sake of the three or four seconds the folks in the black SUV's would have to read our messages. Someone had handed me a sign that said: "The future is not yours to destroy". When the caravan of worthies, preceded by squadrons of police on motorcycles, did descend and swoop around the corner, we saw Gail Norton in a front passenger seat with her window down. All the other windows in the vans were up, blackened and made bullet-proof of course, this being America, so we could only guess about the identity of the rest. But Norton was fearless. I hope she is also a fast reader. It would have been a shame to have gone entirely unseen. Indeed, except for the Fresno media and a couple of lines in the Bakersfield paper, there was no mention of our efforts. Even so, nobody seemed to regret being there. Peaceful demonstration is also a part of American life and a right we are obliged to uphold.

Clearly enough, a few demonstrators will not bring about a change of direction in the congress. It has taken a man dedicated to the principles of moderation and to the educational needs of the nation's special children to do that. But it is certainly the duty of every American to be paying attention to Washington and to the monumental power struggle going on there as we speak. As citizens we are, in my opinion, obliged to care and to spend as much time as we can educating ourselves about the issues. Good people on both sides of the aisle, as well as some not so good, will be affecting our lives by their decisions, and we must exercise our right to input.

Incidentally, if any of you feel as I do that the tax cut legislation which has just swept into approval will be damaging to the country, you might consider doing with your return what I will do with mine. I plan to sign it over to the Sierra Club to assist efforts against the raid on the environment which so far has been the signature of the Bush Administration. A very small gesture, to be sure, but I will feel better when it's done. So might you.


by Ann Williams

June, 2001

At an evening program scheduled by the new Sierra Club Buena Vista Group in Bakersfield, we saw a fine slide presentation on the beautiful Windwolves Preserve in the mountains at the foot of the San Joaquin Valley. As important as the scenery was evidence of an extensive and growing education program for children. The kids were happily learning natural science first hand. Plans are in the works to develop the teaching program so that thousands of school children each year may participate, and may gain the skills they need to be good stewards of the earth. What a thing to celebrate!

I would extend a work of caution, however, regarding the teaching of concepts to very young children. In many cases we have to start more basically than we imagined, and I have a number of examples to illustrate this point.

Just a few days ago in the local paper there was an article on a little program intended to teach city children some farm facts, especially about where meat and eggs and milk come from. The accompanying photograph showed a sign attached to an enclosure surrounding a placid hen. In very large letters it said: THIS IS A CHICKEN. That information was assumed to have been obvious until two inner city children mistook the comfortable and domestic old biddy for an owl.

My own early experience further illustrates the problem. Before I entered Kindergarten, I accompanied my mother to PTA meetings where they sang "My Country, Tis of Thee." I loved making music, and always joined right in, aping the words more than understanding them. When we came to the last line I thought we were singing: "Let's free Dom Ree." I had no idea who Dom Ree was, or why he was in captivity. But I was determined that he should be released, and I sang my heart out in his behalf. At Christmas time we sang "Silent Night," a song that mysteriously involved a very heavy person called a "round yom vurgunt," and also included a reference to a vegetable. For no good reason the poor, round yom vurgunt had to sleep in heavenly peas. Now I knew what a single pea could do to a princess, even under a pile of mattresses, and so the thought of a pile of peas with the poor vurgunt on top, and with no mention whatever of a mattress, made me uneasy.

When I shared my childhood illusion with a high school class many years later, one of the girls was delighted to find that someone else had gotten lost in that song in infancy. She'd had a problem with the fruit when she sang: "Olives come, Olives bright." Everyone knows about the child who came home from Sunday School thinking he had sung about Gladly, the cross-eyed bear. But I only learned recently that another innocent returned to report having urged a strange figure forward with: "Lead On, Oh Kinky Turtle."

On Easter Sunday, for the children"s moment at the front of our church, a teacher had brought some flower bulbs. He described them as a gift from God that eventually formed the beautiful lilies in abundance around the children that day. At the end of the lesson, he asked a rhetorical question, expecting a theological answer: "Now, where do the lilies come from?" One little girl was too smart for him: "Albertson's" she said. Let us observe these caveats when we begin to teach children, especially in the realm of nature where their understanding is critical to their very survival. Perhaps at the owl's nest we should remember to say: THIS IS NOT A CHICKEN.


by Ann Williams

April, 2001

I have heard a number of hopeful people say recently that environmentally hostile actions of the new administration in Washington may bring about a repeat of the Watt Factor in the growth of membership in the Sierra Club. We all remember that when James Watt was head of the Interior Department under Ronald Reagan, Sierra Club membership surged to new heights as people felt compelled to involvement on behalf of the environment so jeapardized by that presidency. My own take on this is somewhat different. I think that there will be some increase in membership in the traditional organizations, but not much. Instead, the internet will be the vehicle for action and persuasion.

I would like to see growth in the club, but I also I am extremely heartened by what I am hearing by word of mouth, and finding in my email. Many of the people I have talked with, including those who voted for the current situation, are expressing dismay and shock over decisions which are being made in rapid succession, and which are antithetical to environmental health as well as to social welfare. I have been taken aback somewhat by the vehemence of the comments coming from people who have heretofore expressed no particular concern about the state of the natural world, and who have, to some extent, thought my positions rather extreme.

Just recently a friend who is a minister in Arizona, and who indicated to me during the campaign that she would vote conservatively this time, was moved two weeks ago to preach a sermon on the threats inherent in deforestation and global warming. What a surprise! And her reports since the sermon indicate many positive responses from her quite conservative congregation, including supportive phone calls. Another friend, who has never expressed interest in environmental questions, is forwarding email after email, from various places in the country, expressing apprehension and outrage, and calling for action. You could, as we used to say, "knock me over with a feather" on that one. Especially since the same friend once replied to my concerns over excessive and careless logging, "Why worry? We have lots of trees. They grow fast". One that she sent me was from Barbara Kingsolver, a widely respected novelist, on the New York Times best seller list for The Poisonwood Bible, lamenting the present situation and calling for citizen involvement via the internet. Kingsolver has given the following address where one may register for environmental alerts from the NRDC, and through which one may send protests against damaging actions and proposals: She reminds us that the internet kept Mitsubishi from building a huge plant on the shores of whale breeding grounds in Mexico. And now I remember now that a lady, whose last name is also Williams, managed to get many nations (though not our own, to our shame) to ban land mines in an international agreement to that effect.

It's a new world, friends, and I have barely developed the necessary skills to be effective in it. But with or without me, the movement is well underway. Granted, the devil is a nerd, and knows everything there is to know about the internet as an opposing vehicle. But I am feeling more hopeful today than I did in November. And that is a good beginning.


by Ann Williams

March, 2001

Those of us who regularly read the comics are familiar with a daily cartoon of domestic life called "Family Circus." Despite its sentimental view of middle class life, I enjoy the childish malapropisms and non sequiturs that have endeared this little human comedy to many readers.

Last year, however, I was disturbed by one of the offerings. Dolly, a little girl about five years old, is kneeling on her bed in prayer. Hands clasped, and gazing earnestly upwards, she says, "...And if you find a purple balloon up there, it's mine."

Not long after the publication of that cartoon, and apropos of it, a very appealing book for children came on the market. Where Do Balloons Go? An Uplifting Mystery, written by Jamie Lee Curtis and illustrated by Laura Cornell, examines Dolly's dilemma with grace and charm, speculating upon the possible whereabouts of a little boy's balloon, accidentally released and perhaps on its way to "that place above," where it may float "forever." The book ends with the statement that the fate of balloons is a "mystery," and advises little readers to hold tight to their balloons until they "have to let go." Near the end, a purple balloon, like Dolly's, ascends into a cloudy sky, very possibly, one must assume, on its way to God.

Where Do Balloons Go? was so popular at Christmas time that Barnes and Noble sold out quickly. I was put on a month's wait for a library copy. Its effect is so charming and its intent so innocent that it was assured of success.

Nevertheless, when a friend wanted to buy a copy for her four-year-old grandson, I persuaded her not to. Over coffee I told her what I know about where balloons REALLY go, if they don't happen to make it to Heaven. All the while I felt as anyone must who spoils a positive impulse with reminders of negative consequences: that is, very like a Grinch.

Balloons are celebrative, and as such they are released in bright multitudes at weddings, birthdays, graduations, church groundbreakings and, of course, memorial ceremonies where they symbolize the glory of life and the soaring of a soul to its heavenly home. Their release is satisfying and, indeed, uplifting. But a revelation of the real destinations of those balloons is sobering. Many of them will drift into forests, and into alpine meadows and streams, where they will be a source of pollution both chemical and visual. Some of them have been found in the throats of dead wildlife, especially oceanic, choked to death on what they have mistaken for food. (Only this morning a friend reported having just seen a downed mylar balloon in the Kern Wildlife Refuge.) Balloons have become entangled in power lines, causing blackouts, and they line the alleys and gutters of cities, adding to the already unhealthful and dismal mess of carelessly discarded debris. They ALWAYS return to earth, whole or in fragments, and they NEVER go to Heaven, except in the imaginations of children.

I have waited a long time to speak out about this because to do so is to be a killjoy. However, the good news is that in many schools, children have found out about the problem of balloon pollution and have found creative alternatives, including the release of white homing pigeons, which may be thought of as proverbial doves. They are more beautiful in flight than balloons are, and they go right home after their release to a good supper and a cozy perch until the next time they are called upon to help our spirits rise.

Please, dear readers, do ponder this if you haven't already. I am sorry that a wider awareness of the problem may have a chilling effect upon the balloon industry, but just think what an inspiration it will be for the lovemaking of doves. You can't get more biblical than that!


by Ann Williams

February, 2001

In my earliest school days we lived in Southern California. The hallmarks of that part of the world were oranges, sunshine, pepper trees, and year round gardens. But also in those days there was rain - lashings of it all winter long. I remember "rainy day session" schedules, indoor lunches, the smell of wet coats in the cloak room, and endless games of Simon Says. And I recall the necessary invention of indoor fun at home: the back of our overstuffed sofa became a horse; dining room chairs and a sheet made a fort, and the sill of a window was transformed into a battlefield for little tin soldiers. (Apologies to the dolls that were indulgences of my mother's fancies more than of mine.)

When the rain continued to oppressiveness, my mother and the mother of the little boy next door, in what now seems to me to have been an extraordinary concession to childish frustration, allowed us for a time to raise our windows and shout field commands for our little armies across two driveways and over the low fence that separated them. I don't recall the duration of those miniature skirmishes, but I do remember the absolute satisfaction in that form of play. One of my most cherished memories is of being eight years old and walking the short distance across our little town to a piano lesson on the first sunny day after a long wet winter. As I approached a stand of wild mustard growing by the road, I saw a single bee working a monopoly of blossoms, and was suddenly filled with the ecstasy known only to children. There was immensity in the light, in the sweet smell of sun-warmed earth, in the brightness of mustard and of a bee heavy with yellow pollen, and above all, in what was signaled by these delights: the end of rain!

California is dryer now, as are many parts of the world, which makes the memory of that moment particularly poignant. Through November and December this year, as day advanced upon day without the slightest hint of precipitation, we grew increasingly uneasy. Once again, even with all our sophisticated advances in technology, we felt helpless in the absence of that element upon which we depend, and from which we evolved.

At such times, in a complete reversal of my childhood resentment of plentiful rain, I resort to superstition in order to attract storms. This year I took the plastic tarp off my woodpile and left it exposed; I indulged in an expensive car washing job, then deliberately left the car outside; I made sure that my favorite pruning shears remained leaning against the fence, vulnerable to rust; I left the windows open where newly-cleaned draperies hang; and I did not put in place the piece of plywood I keep for the purpose of deflecting rain that, left to its own devices, may seep under the door of my utility room. In short, I proposed ruin in the perverse hope that nature could not resist the invitation.

The strategy has worked. Just now I am reveling in a second day of rain. The woodpile has been covered, the car and the sheers are sheltered, the window is down and the plywood is in place. More importantly, all our fundamental institutions seem safe once more. But this is only the second day of rain in months, and that sense of security and order may be an illusion. Therefore, I recommend that you all be prepared to take measures similar to mine, and that you plan your most important outings and picnics for the winter. We can take a lesson from aboriginal peoples who have always known that the gods are more likely to be persuaded by sheer numbers of supplicants. Though I suppose, in concluding, that it might be unproductive to dwell upon what has happened to them.


by Ann Williams

January, 2001

Those of us who live in and around Bakersfield and Kernville are fortunate to be near some of the finest roadless mountain land to be found in the Sequoia National Forest. We can, on a single day's excursion, without the hiking legs of a Sherpa, leave the blighted air and accelerated noise and commerce of the valley, and enter into another world, much of which is still beautiful and serene. When we travel the road along the Kern River to Kernville and beyond, we are in a kind of corridor, with steep mountain wildlands to the right and the left of us which support an abundance of animal species and an amazing variety of trees, shrubs and flowers. We can leave the valley in the morning, lunch at the foot of a giant redwood, listen to the music of chickadees and cascading streams, breathe the sweet air of a conifer forest, and be home in time for supper.

Now, even with national leadership less friendly to natural values than we have had for the last eight years, we have an opportunity to speak out for the preservation of these unique Kern Wildlands. Only Congress has the power to establish wilderness boundaries, and Senator Barbara Boxer has said that she will support wilderness status for these lands if she can be convinced, by enough letters from local citizens, that such a designation is important to us. After the Forest Service failed to come up with a good plan in response to President Clinton's proposal for better management of "priceless back-country lands", there was a massive citizen protest. Twenty-three thousand citizens attended meetings hosted by the Forest Service, and people wrote 1.5 million letters and postcards demanding improvement, and prompting Dan Glickman, overseer of the Forest Service, to exclaim: "Never before have the American people so actively participated in helping to decide how their public lands should be managed!" The Forest Service responded with a more protective plan. Our letters, email messages, cards and phone calls do count, and with enough of them we get action.

The best protection for imperiled plants and wildlife, and against the watershed-damaging activities of logging and offroad vehicle traffic, is wilderness status. You can become one of the Americans who have so impressed government officials, by writing a letter in support of wilderness for the Kern Wildlands. Address your letter to Senator Barbara Boxer, U.S. Senate, 112 Hart Building, Washington DC. You might mention the value of these lands to a fast-growing number of valley citizens for outdoor recreation such as camping, hiking, rafting, fishing, photography and nature appreciation, and the revenue that visitors will bring to all kinds of local businesses. If you live in the southern San Joaquin Valley or near Kernville, your letter will be especially helpful. Send it to: Kern Wildlands, 3ll2 Linden Avenue, Bakersfield, California.

Letters should be mailed before February 20th, and will be forwarded in a packet to Senator Boxer before March l. I thank you in advance for your help.

© Ann Williams, 2001

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