The touch of farewell

Winter softness shelters Yosemite Falls. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2016.

Winter softness shelters Yosemite Falls. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2016.

We sat by the bedside of our departed loved one. Moments before dawn, quiet stillness all around, we listened for the spirit’s touch before it crossed the river.

Hours later in the granite cathedral of the spirit that is Yosemite, I sat before the falls along the Merced River and listened. The recent rains brought needed snow to the mountains, birthplace of the watershed, singing a welcome song of falling water to the Valley. In Siddhartha, Herman Hesse wrote “the river taught me how to listen…..the river knows everything; everything can be learned from it…..how to listen with a still heart, with an expectant, open soul, without passion, without desire, without judgment, without opinion.” Along the river, I heard the touch of farewell.

near the heart of the world

Yosemite Falls. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Yosemite Falls. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Winter rain has brought snow to our beloved Sierras and the sound of Yosemite Falls echoes like thunder through the valley! A welcome sound for our California beset by drought. Gradually hiking to Glacier Point from the valley, each switchback brought another gorgeous view of the waterfall. In his 1871 journal, John Muir wrote “as long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.”

Captivated, I painted the waterfall the next day. Setting up my easel by the Swinging Bridge, I tried to capture the rainbow created by the sunshine striking the water falling earthward. The song of the waterfall, birds, and wind was all around, complemented by the sound of human language, as peoples from throughout the world came to visit and wonder at the beauty of this sacred National Park. Yosemite, the great sanctuary, the heart of the world, welcomes us all, makes brothers of us all, diminishing our fear, giving us peace in time of pain.

 

From this valley

View of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014.

View of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014.

From this valley they say you are going…we will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile…for they say you are taking the sunshine…that has brightened our path for a while.” These are lines from Red River Valley, a song heard throughout John Ford’s classic film of the Great Depression, The Grapes of Wrath, and the melancholy theme for the Joad family’s hard-travelin’ exodus from dustbowl Oklahoma. Tenant farmers, the Joads head to California hoping for a better life, forced from their home by drought and economic hardship. With a few days off in early November, I am driving there and back, crisscrossing my great state of California from Santa Cruz to Nipomo, Los Angeles to Fresno, and Yosemite to Oakland. The many legs of my journey take me through the Central Coast, the Los Angeles Basin, the Central Sierras, and the Central Valley. The land is parched, thirsting for rain and relief from a multi-year drought; and Chicano, Latino and Mexican-American agricultural workers — immigrants and migrants – who came to California hoping for a better life, populate much of this land.

In the fields of the Pajaro Valley, near Watsonville in Monterey County, artichokes, strawberries and cole crops like Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are tended and harvested. Farther down the road, I arrive in yet another important agricultural county, San Luis Obispo, where avocados, citrus, and vegetables are grown. As I drive by the workers in the field, Gloria Anzaldua’s words from her book Borderlands: La Frontera ring in my ears: “To live in the Borderlands means you are neither hispana india negra espanola, ni gabacha, eres mestizo, mulata, half-breed caught in the crossfire between camps while carrying all five races on your back not knowing which side to turn to, run from…”

Today migrants of the borderlands make these agricultural riches possible, but some fifty years ago, “Okies” migrants from the 1930s dustbowl tended the crops of this county. Working in Nipomo, Dorothea Lange documented this earlier migration and plight of the workers in her famous Great Depression photograph of the “Migrant Mother.”

Further down the road, I reach Kern County in the San Joaquin Valley where, Buck Owens Boulevard crosses Highway 58, which leads to the Cesar Chavez National Memorial in Keene. The child of Texas sharecroppers driven out by dust and the Depression, Buck Owens found seasonal work following the crops from Gila Bend, Arizona through the Imperial and San Joaquin Valleys of California. Growing up listening to Mexican border radio stations and Baptist gospel songs, Buck made Bakersfield his home and became famous for singing the story of the “Okie” migrants who came to find work in the farms and oilfields of Central California. Owen’s contributions and the work of Merle Haggard are chronicled in Gerald Haslam’s Workin’ Man’s Blues: Country Music in California. Ironically, just a few miles south of the road memorializing Owens is the final resting place of Cesar Chavez at the headquarters of the United Farm Workers (UFW) who started and led the farm workers’ movement to give voice to the next generation of poor and disenfranchised agricultural workers.