Chico’s Beauty and Contradictions

The mountains around Chico are full of coyotes. They woke us about 10 days ago at Black Butte Lake, near the Coastal Mts., and again at Payne’s Creek near the Cascades. These two mountain ranges could not be more different: Coastal Mts. were once ocean floor deposits that scraped up onto the North American Plate when the Pacific Plate slid beneath it while the Cascades are volcanic. Still, these two areas had some things in common. Both are covered with grass like flowing tides, and covered with oaks that cast black labyrinth shadows on green ground. Buttercups, silver lupines, white shooting stars,

tidy tips, and eggs & butter are a few of the wildflower species. The bird species are somewhat different: Bullock’s orioles dominate Black Butte right now while meadowlarks sang loudly at Payne’s Creek. But both are full of coyotes!


Kate and I are starting to feel like part of things here. People recognize us on the street, on hiking trails in Bidwell Park and elsewhere. We hiked backpacked with others at Payne’s Creek last weekend and enjoyed the company of some jolly hikers and a dog. We Neighbors are friendly, including one who told me about how he found a bear at the garbage at 2 AM one fine morning. We regularly go to a Spanish conversation group, and will soon be volunteering with Park watch, a group that shares all kinds of info. with hikers in Bidwell Park. I am attending several poetry gatherings with more to come. Onward and beyondward!


Today we went to Envisioning Sustainability, an environmental conference at Cal State Chico conference. I am still amazed by the amount of information we gathered. We learned about the Machoopda people, the Native Americans who have lived in this area for thousands of years, and are part of the community here. The rancher Joseph Bidwell, who is credited with the settlement of this area, was responsible for persecution of these people. 460 of them were gathered and forced to march to a settlement to the west in 1863; only about half of them survived.


Their descendants did manage to get official tribal recognition, but the government took it back. The tribe received recognition again in1972, on the condition that they give up any claims to the land. A land trust was formed in 2014 to work to reestablish their claims, and California State University Chico works closely with them to manage its land holdings.  but Butte County is petitioning the Bureau of Indian Affairs to have recognition rescinded again. The people who presented the workshop speculated this is because the county does not want these people to have any claim to land in the region.


We also learned about threats to wildlands in this area.  Loss of ground water threatens blue and valley oaks, two local keystone species that support a range of local plants and animals. Advancing urbanization threatens local vernal pools, along with associated endangered plants like meadow foams. Grasslands are lost to housing developments. Fascinating as this conference is, it reinforces my long time feeling that life anywhere is bittersweet. The conference continues tomorrow, I will add more after that.


Ok – today I went to a workshop on environmental racism in the Sacramento Valley, the section of Central Ca. from  Stockton to Bakersfield. Air quality is terrible here because of traffic, oil wells, agriculture. The poor air is one factor in peoples’ poor health. Many of these communities are made up of marginalized people, such as immigrants, who do not feel they have enough political power to confront these issues; work and survival are the factors that dominate their lives. Community groups are doing all they can to help; one program funds residents to get smog tests on their cars, to make repairs, and often to buy used Hybrids. Every small action helps! I also went to a workshop on art and resistance that offered ideas on how to find inspiration and apply it to issue related art.


The two environmental education workshops really inspired me. One project engages children’s range of talents to help them understand the planet’s plight and to think of solutions. The other encourages teachers to take children on guided experience on local land. Education is my way of working for environmental change; I will be in touch with both of these projects.


Yesterday, Kate said, “it’s like being in a foreign country here. It’s so different from Oakland: we are hit in the face with native peoples’ issues, with loss of wildlands, and just about everything else.” Very true, but it is a foreign country where we both feel comfortable. People here look for solutions. We will figure out how to work in this community. Much more to come, watch this space!


About pelicanguy6

I'm an environmental educator and writer currently based in Oakland, California. I plan to include a hiking/nature journal on this blog, along with articles on environmental education, travel articles, poetry, and spontaneous thoughts. I am a passionate hiker and camper and a world traveler. I really enjoy cooking vegetarian feasts, and specialize in veggie German meals for Oktoberfest.
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