September always takes me by surprise. I think it’s because the shortening day length is now more perceptible than it was in summer, when the difference between June’s and July’s is less apparent. Nothing has changed in the rate of turning, only our ability to sense it. But it triggers my internal seasonal time clock, which announces that fall is coming.
And maybe that’s true with the way we perceive the state of the world as well. Things have been going bad—worse for some people than others—for a very long time, maybe forever. But then they pile up in such a way that we sense that a fall is coming, and it’s going to be ugly. And we say—some of us say, anyway—things can’t keep going on like this or we’re going to exterminate ourselves.
Two recent news articles in nonmainstream media may help explain what I mean. One is by independent radio and print journalist Vic Bedoian, a Valley native, on the environmental conditions accruing from this spring’s flooding of Tulare Lake (Community Alliance, Sept. 2023, fresnoalliance.com.) Titled “Tulare Lake Lingers over Industrial Landscape”, Bedoian’s article describes the conditions caused by flooding of farmland owned and operated at industrial scale, with industrial precepts. This land use has impacted waterfowl and wildlife for many decades, but the impacts are more visible now, with ag chemicals and petroleum fuels submerged and mingling with rotting vegetation and building materials, rusting cars and farm equipment concentrating in the water as it evaporates up and percolates down.
The other article was written by Darren Fraser and ran on the front page in Mid Valley Times last week. It’s about the billionaire land investors’ purchase of 55,000 acres of land around Travis AFB in Solano Co. under the umbrella “Flannery Associates.” If you missed it, I recommend going back and reading it. It features the state legislation being proposed to prevent such amassings of land by investors and foreign countries. It also mentions previous legislation that makes such an amassing lucrative, particularly the state water futures market. I am unaware of this feature of our political landscape, but our local state senator Melissa Hurtado is not. She believes that the proposed city the investors say they want to build is a ruse, and that their primary interest is marketing water, which would pay big dividends without much additional investment beyond the land purchases.
There is a parallel or two between the two stories. The recent land amassings of Flannery Associates is roughly 25% the size of the current Boswell landholdings in the Tulare Lake bottom, but no one raised the flag of alarm as their acquisitions proceeded (no one in a position to stop it, anyway.) It’s an even smaller proportion of the Resnick’s holdings or Sandridge Partners’ in this end of the Valley, and comparable to many landholdings in Westlands. It’s less than 10% of what Southern Pacific Railroad (under various names) once held. You can say “but well these folks are wanting to take land out of ag production and develop it for urban uses” (if you believe Flannery’s story), and that is an important point. But cries in the media over the state’s critical housing shortage have paved the way for the developers to claim they are meeting an important need by doing so.
Hurtado’s instinct matches mine: that this is all about gaining control over water, nothing more and nothing less. But there’s an advantage to this: water is a public trust resource, not private property, which gives us, the people, the right to see that it is managed that way. We have not yet come to the point where we see land in the same light, which has left us over a barrel for a century or two. I hope we can find ways to support Senator Hurtado in this effort.
What we’re doing is inhumane and unholy, whether that’s farming the lakebed as if it wasn’t, as if we could prevent the lake from coming home where it’s supposed to be, or hoarding rights to water as “futures,” betting on its price going sky-high. On Labor Day Sunday I preached from Ecclesiastes 3 and James 5, both biblical passages very clear on what right living would be. My generation sang to Ecclesiastes in the Byrds’ song “Turn, Turn, Turn,” so I did, too. And as the congregation sang briefly with me, I got a glimpse of the possibility of turning, turning away from this worshiping of the Money God, and reclaiming our place on earth as a neighborhood. Turn, turn, turn: may we be entering a new season.
Trudy Wischemann has a land ministry in the Tulare Lake Basin. You can send her your epiphanies 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 Mid Valley Times newspaper