Friday, March 13, 2015


Lupine next to Pa'san Ridge Trail:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area

     The Dumna and Kechayi Native Americans once occupied the San Joaquin River Gorge and surrounding lands. The Pa'san Ridge Trail loops around on the west side of the river--the word pa'san is derived from their language and means “pine nuts,” a food source that exists in abundance on the hillsides.  In spring the ridge trail provides an opportunity to experience a breathtaking array of flowering trees and plants: redbuds, lupine, poppies, fiesta flowers, goldfields, owl’s clover, fiddleneck and popcorn. At one point the ridge trail forks south, dipping down to the edge of the inundation zone of Millerton Lake, where rotting flotation devices, driftwood and trash are strewn upon or near Native American pounding stones. In spring, baby blue eyes blanket the grass between the river and the trail near indentations, the size of house pits, in the ground. The small piece of level land at the bottom of the gorge is the only place where the Native Americans could have set up their huts and buried their dead. Across the river, rocks left over from the construction of a small hydro project rise on the slope like a barricade. 

Pounding Stone near Hydro Project:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area

     Sometimes under water, sometimes exposed, the ancient Native American site remains in a water-logged limbo where pristine public land transitions into wasteland. The conflicts related to water in California have often been described as a war--other than a dam, only a war could have created a no-man’s land of similar proportions. The denuded slopes of the gorge reveal the high water mark of Millerton Lake, the reservoir created by Friant Dam. Only a crop of cockle-burrs flourishes there. Reservoir water has destroyed the root systems of the native plants and trees, leaving unstable rocks and soil. Unlike a war zone, however, this no man’s land will not renew itself as long as Friant Dam stands.

Pounding Stone in Millerton Lake near Hydro Project:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area

     The first time I found the Native American site, I felt betrayed. The ridge trail offered so many wonders that I expected to find myself eventually in some Edenic place far removed from the rat race. Instead I ended up at a Native American village site converted into a wasteland for an investor-owned utility and the ag industry. Every time I have returned since, the sense of betrayal has grown stronger: I feel that I have been duped for most of my life. 
     Now that the voters have passed a water bond that could lead to the approval of a dam at Temperance Flat, I see clearly how little Native American sites or the environment or our system of public lands actually means to those in power and how much the democratic process can be manipulated. Much more is at stake than just the loss of The San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area. Our whole system of public lands will remain in limbo as long as the people with power and money continue to buy the officials who represent our democracy and manipulate the masses through the media. I am convinced that this most recent assault on public lands serves as a test to see how much they can get away with.
Possible House Pits in Inundation Zone
of Millerton Lake near Pounding Stone
          Two dams already exist at both ends of the recreation area: Kerckhoff Dam above and Friant Dam below. The reservoir created by Temperance Flat Dam would fill up the space in between, drowning the canyon, and along with it, the recreation area and several hydroelectric projects. 
     The Bureau of Reclamation notes that construction of the dam and reservoir will have "unavoidable and/or disproportionately high and adverse" impacts on air quality, fisheries, aquatic ecosystems, botanical and wetland resources, wildlife, climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, cultural resources, agricultural resources, noise and vibration, and visual resources. Local Native American tribes have identified 30 sensitive sites within the Temperance Flat study area, one of which was defined by the Native American Heritage Commission as sacred. The proposed Temperance Flat power system would only be able to replace between 81% and 91% of the power lost by flooding the existing hydroelectric plants. Moreover, if three dams of that size fail together, the entire river bottom area, which includes the town of Friant below Millerton Lake, could be wiped out, as well as parts of northern Fresno and towns downstream such as Firebaugh. These are just a few of the most obvious problems, and the media has avoided mentioning them. 
     The current water war, like all wars in recent history, is accompanied by a public relations campaign in the media. In recent years, the Fresno Bee has often voiced support for a dam at Temperance Flat. From the beginning, the Bee has framed the issue in a way that favors agribusiness, avoiding discussion of negative impacts on the public or the environment. The Bee in its recent campaign, for instance, fails to mention that the dam will wipe public land off the map and that the public will end up footing a large part of the bill for the loss and destruction of its own resources while private interests benefit: The tragedy of the commons, in which the community as a whole loses out while one industry benefits, will be played out in epic proportions if the dam is approved. In eminent domain proceedings, at least, an offer to purchase the property is made to the owner in order to mitigate the property owner’s loss. In the case of Temperance Flat Dam, The Fresno Bee has avoided discussing the possibility of replacing the recreation area with one of the same quality and size somewhere else along the river. Numerous dams already exist on the San Joaquin River and one would be hard-pressed to find any land accessible to the public along an undammed stretch of the river north of Kerckhoff Reservoir all the way to Mono Hot Springs (a three-hour drive from Fresno).
Ridge Trail: San Joaquin River Gorge 
Special Recreation Management Area
     The media, for the most part, has avoided discussing a connection between the dam and the use of its water to irrigate one of the most wasteful crops in the world: almonds, the Valley’s biggest crop. The Bee recently mentioned that journalists from other parts of the country have “parachuted” into the Valley to get the scoop on almonds, and that one magazine (Mother Jones) even points out that it takes over a gallon of water to produce one almond. The Bee’s suggestion that journalists from other parts of the country have to parachute into the Valley as though into a war zone to find the truth would be funny if it didn’t ring so true. Instead of supporting a dam, why doesn’t the media complain about the water guzzling crops, such as almonds, cotton, and grapes that have no business being grown in a semi-arid region, especially in chronic drought conditions? Why isn’t the media protecting the public interest instead of advocating for a vested interest that needs to do some serious soul-searching about its practices instead of maintaining the status quo at the public's expense?

     The issue is framed as a public benefit for salmon: A dam at Temperance Flat might provide cold water downstream to revive a salmon run. However, The Fresno Bee has avoided mentioning that two dozen rare, threatened, and endangered species in the gorge will take a hit when the river ecosystem is wiped out.
     The media generally fails to mention the history behind the Central Valley Project. As Bettina Boxall of the LA Times points out, aquifer levels in the Valley nose-dived in the years before World War II. The federal government came to the rescue with the Central Valley Project, the nation's biggest irrigation operation, erecting Friant Dam in 1942. Two canals diverted over ninety-five percent of the water from Millerton Lake. The Madera Canal ran north and the Friant-Kern Canal meandered south, filling the east side's thirsty irrigation ditches. The river's salmon quickly vanished and about 50 miles of riverbed downstream from Friant remains a desert in all but the wettest years.
Goldfields and Bush Lupine: San Joaquin River 
Gorge Special Recreation Management Area
     I am still surprised to discover that many local people do not know that the San Joaquin River once flowed into the delta and eventually into the San Francisco Bay, suggesting another failure on the part of the media to inform the public. In wet years the river would overflow, replenishing wetlands (now down to four percent of historical levels) as well as groundwater supplies. Due to the diversion of so much water, environmental problems from Friant Dam to the delta continue to plague the Valley: Groundwater levels plummet, and fish populations in the delta teeter on the edge of extinction while farmers combine pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers with irrigation water that percolates down into the aquifers. 
      In discussing Temperance Flat Dam, the Bee fails to mention an important difference between the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project. In 1960, California voters approved a bond to build a network of dams and aqueducts, diverting water from the delta to cities in the south. The rate-payers of those primarily urban water agencies are repaying most of the bond for the State Water Project with interest while shouldering almost all of the system's annual operating costs. As Boxall points out, irrigators in the Central Valley Project have, in contrast, enjoyed the equivalent of a 60-year, interest-free loan. They have so far repaid about 19% of their $1.2-billion share of the federal project's capital costs. Under reclamation law, the government charges them no interest. Though the vast majority of Temperance Flat's releases could go to growers, they will no doubt have great difficulty paying for their share of the dam's costs. The NRDC points out that the water coming out of Temperance Flat would "cost more than $1,500 per acre foot. Even with massive taxpayer subsidies, the Bureau of Reclamation estimates that water would cost more than $200 per acre foot for agricultural contractors (far more than these districts pay today, especially since the project would eliminate much of the cheap $10 per acre foot water that is provided in wet years)." Because the dam would destroy public land without what would be considered appropriate compensation in any other case, more taxpayer subsidies would simply add insult to injury. 

Native American Village Site:
Pine Flat Reservoir in Drought Year

     Proposition One's allocation for new storage projects would increase the state's annual water supply by only a small fraction of California's total needs (as little as one percent) but could win a huge chunk of state taxpayer funding. The Proposition sets aside $2.7 billion for unspecified surface and groundwater storage, but does not pay for all of a project's total cost. So dam backers would still have to turn elsewhere for money, most likely to the federal government or urban areas. The Bee fails to mention that cities will need to play a major role even though agricultural users, not urban users, will receive the lion’s share of the water.
     As the argument against Proposition One in the Official Voter Information Guide points out, "In a major historic departure for water storage projects, the costs of these new dams and reservoirs will be paid from the state General Fund, and California taxpayers will share the burden of paying off bonds that will drain $500 million a year from the General Fund....It's an issue of fairness. The 1960 bond act that financed the State Water Project directed that beneficiaries pay those costs through their water rates. If private water users won't fund these projects on their own, taxpayers should not be required to underwrite their construction, and then purchase the water later at higher prices. Private water users who are the beneficiaries, not taxpayers, should pay for the cost of these projects."
Lupine and Red Clover
next to Ridge Trail
    The Bee claims that by approving Proposition One, voters supported building more dams, such as the dam at Temperance Flat. The language of the legislation, however, does not specify any water storage projects. Ground water storage projects are another, and far superior option, but again, the local ag-industry is less certain to benefit from this type of project.
    The San Joaquin River from the mountains to the San Francisco Bay was once the lifeblood of one vast ecosystem comparable to the Serengeti Plains in abundance of wildlife. The ag industry has drained the river dry for seventy years and the ecosystem has nearly vanished. But just when you think everything is gone, they find something else to take. The next to go will probably be the King's River Special Management Area, since the hydraulic brotherhood has also been clamoring to build a dam at Roger's Crossing for years. One lesson to be learned is that local, state and federal governments can change land use designations whenever expedient. That, combined with corporate influence on politics and the media, requires hyper-vigilance on the part of the public.
     The Bee's outspoken support of the dam at Temperance Flat resembles nothing less than an all-out public relations campaign. At best, the Bee and other media are simply misleading the public due to an inability to delve more deeply into an issue. At worst, they are being controlled by corporate interests. Funny, but I have always assumed that it is in the best interests of a newspaper to at least provide the impression that integrity is important. At this point, I have serious doubts that maintaining journalistic integrity is even a consideration for the McClatchy Company anymore.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


Fiddleneck and Popcorn in House Pits near Pounding Stone

     I have some faith in my feet, so I follow ancient trails in the mountains to wherever they take me, and often, wherever I find the most Edenic places, I also discover pounding stones. More often than not, these places contain a stream that provides a unique kind of freshness, a primeval sublimity. Often when I encounter one of these streams, I feel like I have stepped through an invisible door into an unknown paradise that harbors a primal intelligence, an Over-Soul that hesitates to welcome humanity. Yet I also sense a sympathy dwelling within the spirits of nature, as if they harbor a love of all creation that gives way to tolerance for any soul, even a human soul, that reveals the same reverence.
     These feelings, of course, can be dismissed as mere fantasy. That’s fine: I am going to discuss a topic that probably will not be understood by those who have not seen the sun at midnight.  

Pestles on Pounding Stone

     How do we reconcile the Vision of Harmony with unspeakable evil?
     In the Qabalah, the Vision of Harmony is a spiritual experience assigned on the Tree of Life to Tiphareth, the sphere of Beauty and equilibrium, also known as the Christ-center. The vision consists of recognizing that each life is a field of energy within infinite fields of energy, all connected in a living tapestry. 
Pestle on Pounding Stone
     Evil, on one level, is misplaced energy, or energy operating in a harmful context. Boiling water for food is good. Boiling water with your fingers in it is evil. Wood burning in the fireplace is good. Wood burning on the carpet is evil. Gasoline used to power a vehicle is good. Gasoline used to burn down someone’s home is evil. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries we have experienced misplaced and harmful energy on an unprecedented scale: industrial and technological energy that destroys entire ecosystems and races. 
     Most of us at some point ask how evil can exist in a universe created by a loving God and conclude that a God does not exist or is not at all loving. When I find a pounding stone in a pristine place, I feel the need to re-examine everything I’ve ever known. I sometimes can’t help but wonder how God could allow one race to kill off another. The very fact that I can roam freely in these pristine areas due to their designation as public lands means that the Native American descendents of the survivors of genocide cannot return to live permanently in their ancestral home.
     I have lived just over half a century, the blink of an eye. According to historical records, the last encampments of the Native Americans in these hills occurred in 1917. In some of the more secluded areas of the mountains, where I find house pits as well as pestles still in the mortars of the pounding stones, I begin to suspect that small clans or individuals remained in secluded areas well into the twentieth century. Sometimes, because of the distinctness of the trails and the house pits, I even suspect that the last survivors of genocide disappeared from their home lands not long before I was born.

Pestles on Pounding Stone

     World War II, which included the genocide of over six million people, ended fifteen years before I was born. My father and his brothers served during the great war; two of my uncles survived being shot down by Germans. If you have grown up knowing that you and the rest of the planet can be incinerated at any moment, you do not need to have experienced war or concentration camps to understand evil. Most of us are well aware that humanity is still capable of raining down total destruction upon the planet. 
     How is it possible that one can experience a spiritual emergence and continue to grow as a human being despite this evil? How is it possible that a person can still experience the magnificence, abundance and harmony of the human spirit despite all the suffering and fear and hopelessness? 

Pestle in Mortar

     As I have explained in previous posts, in my early forties, I unexpectedly experienced a spiritual emergence through meditation. Before that, I was a cynical agnostic who scoffed at any manifestation of spirituality. I believed that anyone who claimed to have a spiritual life was naive, deluded, or deceitful. I still occasionally shake my head in disbelief when I think about how much I have changed in the past decade.
     During meditation I was introduced to an ancient spiritual glyph known as the Tree of Life through visions of symbols associated with the Tree, before I ever actually encountered the great composite symbol itself. Used by the Qabalist as a map of spiritual terrain, the Tree of Life reveals on one level the evolution of the dimensions of the cosmos. Within the first dimension, known as Kether, which evolved from the unmanifest, total unity abides.  As the other dimensions evolved, different polarities came into being. For purposes of illustration, imagine a pole with a rainbow spectrum of colors, with white at one end and black at the other. Each sphere on the Tree except for Kether contains such a pole with a spectrum of energy. All of the polarities manifest in the final sphere, the Kingdom, the physical universe.

Pestles on Pounding Stone

     On the Tree there is never any fixed duality of good and evil, just degrees within a spectrum on a pole of energy. A constant battle between God and the devil does not exist, only balance or imbalance within a range of possibilities.
     We have evolved to the point where we can create like gods and destroy like gods, but the God of Creation seems absent. We see evidence of evolution everywhere in the physical universe but rarely entertain the possibility of evolution in other dimensions of the cosmos.
     Operating from first principles, the Qabalist recognizes the God of creation, the prime mover, the fashioner of the egg. God designed the laws of the cosmos and set evolution in motion. The archetypal laws abide throughout the cosmos, no matter the fate of one species. The Earth is but one miniscule planet within a universe containing hundreds of billions of galaxies and trillions of stars, and, as one mystic points out, the entire physical universe itself is merely like foam thrown upon the seashore.  The Qabalist believes that the cosmic energies, including the potential for all of the polarities, also exist within each individual human being. 

Pestle on Pounding Stone

     Life, including human life, as a whole tends towards balance. Throughout the entire cosmos, harmony prevails, or there would be only chaos. At times massive upheavals occur. Stars supernova and galaxies collide. If a species destroys a planet, the cosmos will continue evolving.  Life will eventually continue again on that little planet when conditions are right. 
     The difference between the natural world and humanity is that people can choose whether or not to disrupt the balance of nature or society. Sometimes, of course, upheaval is necessary in oppressive societies where those in power employ harmful energies for their own benefit. Those who fight for greater balance and strive for the highest good are courageous in that context. Those who disrupt for their personal gain merely cause evil to breed.

Pestles in Pounding Stone

    Never has there been a time when a human being can be more distinctly individual while at the same time needing to act as though for the whole society. Because of our technological advances, opportunities for massive injustices and great evil within human society at this stage of evolution always exist. Each individual can only control his or her own personal sphere, but the fate of the whole species seems to rest on each individual’s shoulders: The more each person chooses a path of harmony and balance, the more likely others will do the same. The opposite, of course, is also true.
     As a species, humanity, while creating or destroying, tends to learn slowly from its vices and virtues--a virtue being a harmonious, balanced use of a type of energy, and a vice being an unbalanced use of a type of energy. As I mentioned, polarities from each sphere, or state of being, on the Tree of Life manifest in the Kingdom. Depending on the situation, we can choose to manifest the virtue or vice from any sphere. With the energy of the state of being known as Geburah (Severity), which is associated with Mars, for instance, we can approach a problem with discipline, courage and vitality or with cruelty and destructiveness. With the energy of the state of being known as Hod (Splendor), we can deal truthfully or deceitfully with each other. With the energy of the state of being known as Tiphareth (Beauty), we can be loving and selfless or full of hate and pride. In other words, with the energy of each state of being represented on the Tree of Life, we can choose to manifest the highest good or the worst evil--or something in between.

Grass Growing from Mortar:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area

     I had a professor in college who claimed that due to the horrors of the twentieth century we can no longer believe in the magnificence of the human spirit. I have come to conclude that evil and good exist within different contexts and on different scales, but polarities don’t change even if humanity is truly being challenged as never before. The human spirit, which has the potential for great evil, also has the potential for greater magnificence the greater the evil becomes. As individuals, groups, and societies we must always choose either virtue or vice, balance or lack of balance, no matter how desperate the circumstances. 
     The spiritual experience known as the Vision of Harmony establishes an imaginative connection with all life so that we may understand polarities and strive for the highest good. It does not lead to a naive belief that harmony will always prevail in society but to a recognition that we can choose to use energy in a balanced or unbalanced way. Personally I would prefer to preserve the paradises that still exist and honor the magnificence, harmony, and abundance within the human spirit.