December 3, 2009

My generation has been cheated, and I’ll tell you why.

At 11:30pm a few nights ago, I found myself cajoled out of bed, trussed up in my cold-weather work clothes, driving off in a pickup with my farming partner and his brother, on our way to the local rice fields. There was something special they thought I should see. Usually at 11:30pm I tell people to go stuff themselves, but something sounded different here.

We crawled along, talking about the usual farming stuff…..when they’d gotten out of the rice fields after harvest, who still had yet to flood their fields, who messed up this harvest or did well at the other one. I was asked to keep the window down, and the still air was icy. All the land around was lit in shades of grays and deep blues, and clearest of all was the unending gray of the gravel levees that ran between the fields recently run with water. In the distance I could hear the sound of a large machine, and the see the lights from Beale AFB as well as the towers perched on top of the Sutter Buttes shone in the distance. We crept along, slower and slower, and finally came to a halt. The machine was much louder now, and we carefully exited the truck in order to see the rice fields we had come to, filled with water for the winter. In the distance were masses of white out on the water. The machine was not a machine at all, but was now making a roaring sound much like a turbine. We took three more steps forward and with the roar of a jetliner taking off, hundreds of thousands of geese exploded into the air. They looked like a wave of foam across the watery fields. The noise was simply incredible. We crept on to yet another section, and heard and saw the same thing. This was the experience of migration, the birds that depend on the man-made "wetlands" of the rice fields to feed before they move on to wherever it is they are going. I know from reading books that even 75 years ago, what I just saw was common. People took it for granted to see a sky so full of birds that it blacked out the sun. Now, it is an experience apparantly to be found only at midnight in the middle of nowhere. If you know a rice farmer who can find it. All I could think was, how we "people in general" have managed to screw so much up, in such a short amount of time. I know I’ll remember what I saw and heard for a long, long time. We may have screwed it up, but we haven’t killed it….not yet.

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