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There Is No Place Like Home
Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
August 27, 1998
Well, I survived my summer vacation, and had a great time doing so. What I am not sure of though is which was more dangerous, river rafting on the Tuololome or traveling to the East Coast. Both provided plenty of insight, and required work. The biggest revelation was how good we have got it here in San Diego County. Granted we may not have a world class museum, but then again we don't have thousands of Superfund sites to deal with either.
Three days on the river was the perfect way to relax. Those vacationing with us were an experienced lot, which made things go smoothly. The scenery was incredible and as about as pristine as a hundred years of human intervention would allow. Nature in it's raw state inspires respect and just a little fear. I was aware of how insignificant I was compared to the river. You could say I was content just to ride it and live to tell about. One thing that I could not forget was that others who came before me saw the river as something to be controlled and exploited, the evidence was everywhere.
On day two we came to the ruins of the Tuolumne powerhouse. Completed in 1904 destroyed by the river in 1914 the remains of this testament to man's continued quest for dominance served as reminder of the futility of trying to harness nature. But I have to be honest, it made the ideal Kodak picture spot. I felt like an archeologist poking about the ruins of some lost culture. Somewhat premature I know, but hey, it was as dead as the Dodo and just as forgotten. Like a discarded cigarette butt this attempt at control littered the riverbank in an unmistakable way.
Other reminders of what planet we were on included an abandoned mine, which was very X-Files, and the knowledge that the Hetch Hetchy Dam loomed upstream and the Don Diego Reservoir Below. The reservoir was the reason we saw no salmon on this river. On this trip wildlife sightings were few and far between, the highlight for me being a squirrel racing our raft.
On the bright side I had the chance to hike up the Clavey, which is a tributary that meets the Tuolumne to create a class 5 rapid. Up the Clavey we swam in pools and jumped off boulders.(Kind of like Box Canyon in La Costa without the uptight neighbors.) The cool water was a welcome relief from the mid-afternoon heat. Because of this time in the wilderness I truly understand why California is called the Golden State. Floating through the valley the steep hillsides above were a sea of gold. This is my idea of paradise.
I know I complain constantly, always having to comment on how bad we are messing things up. Well after following time on the river with a week in Boston, I now realize that I should consider myself lucky. I think it is safe to say that I was not impressed by Beantown. Besides the fact that the city has lousy burritos, it is also dirty, and the drivers there are ruder than West Coast road ragers by a long shot.
For those of you who need a brief history listen, Boston is where the American revolution got started when a bunch of Anglos dressed up like Indians and poured tea into the harbor. How is that civil disobedience, dump the product of slave labor to protest taxes while placing the blame on the locals you stole everything from. Kind of like Pete Wilson's attack on Indian gaming. Boston could easily be the mirror of our future. The city has a great transit system, I can't tell you how nice it is not having to drive, anywhere. But I don't understand why they insist on doing the "Big Dig." For those of you who haven't heard this is a 20 year freeway enhancement project that is too little, too late. In resemblance to Interstate 5 is pure coincidence.
The reason I was in Boston was to attend a conference for the national student organization Free The Planet! A very rewarding networking opportunity, it was a week of briefings on everything from media outreach to the deforestation of America. I was completely surprised at the number of Superfund sites on the east coast. And I thought a proliferation of Walmarts was a nightmare.
The one shining moment for me was my pilgrimage to Walden pond. When Henry David Thoreau built his cabin near the pond the surrounding forest had been cleared for bean fields, sound familiar.
Today the forest has reestablished itself. And at the site of where the cabin once stood is a marker recognizing the site as the birthplace of American environmentalism. And just to remind me why I was there, some thoughtful tourists had left plenty of cigarette butts and candy wrappers for me to pick up.