Tag Archives: San Joaquin Valley

Gerald Haslam

One of the Central Valley’s most prolific writers, died at 84.




Orange Harvest Mural by Colleen Michell-Veyna—Exeter, CA


The valley sinks with pumping
deeper and deeper
into investor’s pockets

before they take the write-off,
before they turn the ground
for a profit.

                              It’s a clean deal
                              with no hands dirty.


We are the immigrants
from another time
growing closer to the soil,

dreaming still of rain, bumper crops
and markets high enough
to pay the bank off—

                              mom and pops
                              who stay the ground.


The natives heard them coming,
saw the woodsmoke,
left rabbits on the doorstep

to keep the guns inside—
to not spook the game
that fed them before

                              the tule elk and
                              antelope were gone.




                                       Now in the quiet I stand
                                       and look at her a long time, glad
                                       to have recovered what is lost
                                       in the exchange of something for money.

                                            – Wendell Berry (“The Sorrel Filly”)

Looming closer, a swirling darkness just beyond
the thought of summer’s water that is not
frozen deep in the Sierras to feed our rivers

and canyon leaks—of brittle fall and cattle
gathered at an empty trough. The creek dries back
and sinks in March, lifted to new canopies

of sycamores dressing. Skeletons of old oaks
stand out between greening survivors, some
wearing only clumps of yellow mistletoe

hanging like reasons, raisons—like raisins
clinging to a leafless vine. Each season
spins the same dry song, yet we find our place,

harmonize and sing along, lifted like precious
moisture to tender leaves, a basic ascension not
available in the big box stores, unrecorded

in the history of our presence. This may be
the new normal for old people—that daze
of amazement we have been working towards.













The big dogs are drilling deeper,
pumping the last of a million years
of underground water, each river

dammed into furrows to farm
the empty Laguna de Tache.
Sixty years ago, when red lights

stopped in every railroad town,
colorful cornucopias spilled
from billboards onto Highway 99

bragging fruit or vegetable capitals
of another world, and huge Big Oranges
squeezed juice every ten miles.

On the semi-arid edge of change,
we beg for rain and dream of floods
to take this Valley back in time.


                    *     *     *


1876 Tulare County Map

Wiki: Laguna de Tache, Tulare Lake






How easily she could say,
‘it’s all in your mind—’
deny, dismiss what she knew

could be true, if we let it
when we were children
pretending to be grown up—

playing games
with our imaginations,
mornings drumming music

on eucalyptus roots
before the school bus stopped
our spontaneous chants.

With rusty tools and sticks,
horse drawn relics
and Model T wrecks

we took off for town—
took turns driving
wild steeds or hot rod cars

depending on time—just
as much as we wanted
to get there.



WPC(4) — “Serenity”


Two Ranges on the Solstice 2014



It’s rare to see across the San Joaquin Valley to the California Coast Range anymore, over the small community of Elderwood, from the Paregien Ranch, then look east to the Kaweah Peaks of the Great Western Divide, and Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park — a good air day!







The wells run deeper now
past the Pleistocene and into salt
at half a million bucks a pop
for the last of the water
as the Valley collapses
under the weight
of farming investors
for the moment
leaving Mom and Pop
and forty acres
high and dry
with one last roll
for agribusiness—
one last extraction
from a thirsty future.

No dirt farmers left
to turn the earth,
make sweet love
with furrows
and pruning sheers
for a crop to harvest,
wobbly wagon loads
to railroad towns
grown bright and urban
in a couple of lifetimes
farming the future.





Bad air from the Bay
trapped beneath the warm
sunshine and new grass growing.



WPC(2) — “Minimalist”





Dawn bears down early,
sears flesh exposed,
blinds eye and mind

into a fuzzy daze,
fiery-white as hell
must be. We plod

slowly with heads bowed
to mantras of water
keeping the living alive.

Like cattle, we bed with
welcome breezes moving
shade to shade.




                              Now I carry those days in a tiny box
                              wherever I go.

                                   – William Stafford (“Remembering”)

I feel for pocket-knife, keys and wallet,
handkerchief, cigarettes and lighter
before I pull on my boots, find my glasses

and pick which hat to meet the day’s
surprises, but this tiny box is always
with me. Before daylight, I crack the lid

to see what wants out on paper: a river,
a lake or Sierra pass take shape, pine smoke
curls through cedar boughs and I am

there with coffee before an eager fire
on another cold morning. Here money
buys nothing, and no more than paper

to ignite wet kindling after a thunderstorm,
all other urgencies are washed away, shed
downstream to mix and pool in the Valley—

like the Christmas flood of ‘67, when
they shipped food and freight into Visalia
by boat in May. We think we have

seen extremes, but the San Joaquin
has always been changing—begun
in the mountains, days above it all away.