The stories of Indian laborers often feel secondary to the spaces and stories of the Franciscan fathers, despite the fact that the missions were primarily centers of Indian work. The fathers hoped that productivity would lead to a surer conversion while they also made a profit, especially from the products of cattle in the form of hides and tallow that they sold to British and American ships along the Pacific coast. There are certainly signs of this work throughout the missions—from tallow vats to tanneries—and La Purisma stands out to me as a site that focuses on the type of work that its mostly Chumash inhabitants did on a daily basis. Beyond the missions, Indians as workers are even less visible in public presentations of California’s historical memory. Vaquero parades, rodeos, and festivals are rare, and the role of Indians in those festivals is small to nonexistent.
The amount of surface water in the Basin and Range country of California and Nevada, where my book is set, has fluctuated tremendously over the last several million years and the fortunes of the salamanders, toads, and pupfishes have waxed and waned with the advance and retreat of these waters. Imagine standing above Death Valley 150,000 years ago and looking out over ancient Lake Manly, which was six hundred feet deep and eighty miles long. Lake Manly—and Searles Lake, Panamint Lake, and Tecopa Lake, on and on—would have been stunningly beautiful, part of a widespread Pleistocene “sea.” The fishes and amphibians that lived in or near these lakes, or along feeder streams, must have prospered. Now these waters have been replaced by desert and salt pan playas, and “my” species have retreated into refugia, where they persevere, sometimes against great odds. Continue Reading Interview: Christopher Norment on the beauty of the desert ecosystem
I was recently interviewed for a series of radio essays called “We Used to Be China,” on China’s air pollution, by Sarah Gardner at American Public Radio’s Marketplace. These stories got me thinking about China’s air pollution problem, and about Marketplace’s premise. Did we, the United States, used to be China? In what ways? Continue Reading Sarah S. Elkind: Air Pollution and Prosperity
We have become so used to hearing of regulations–particularly consumer protections like banking rules or the proposed controls on mercury emissions—as threats to prosperity that it has become nearly impossible to imagine these debates in any other way. But in 1940s Los Angeles, controlling air pollution and creating a healthy environment was understood as essential to prosperity, and the business community led the regulatory effort. Continue Reading Sarah S. Elkind: Los Angeles and the History of Air Pollution
On WUNC’s (91.5 FM Chapel Hill) The State of Things today at noon, Frank Stasio and a panel of guests will be discussing the legal and religious meanings of marriage in light of the passage of Prop 8 in California and similar amendments in other states. Guests will include UNC Press author E. Patrick Johnson,… Continue Reading E. Patrick Johnson on today’s State of Things