The Floods, the Farms, and the River That Roared Again

The Floods, the Farms, and the River That Roared Again
The Floods, the Farms, and the River That Roared Again

These phrases aptly describe the scene I encountered in January, some 70 years after the novel’s publication. Drought appeared a distant reminiscence; the inexperienced hillsides contrasted with the Salinas’ swift, muddy present. Alongside River Street, I met a pair taking their morning stroll on a muddy path alongside the swollen Salinas. Within the almost 30 years they’ve lived on the town, the person informed me, he has by no means seen the Salinas so massive—although, he added, in many years previous, the river did carry a bigger and extra constant circulate. “There was once a slaughterhouse proper right here,” he mentioned, gesturing to a row of riverside houses. “They might discharge blood straight into the river. The water was all the time purple.”

As I headed out of city on Freeway 101, the rain began up, battering the windshield. Within the temporary breaks between downpours, the land morphed right into a foggy dreamscape. I ended at a pullout overlooking the river and the large San Ardo oilfield. A rainbow arched over the Gabilan Vary within the distance. A number of months earlier, these hills had been sun-blistered and desolate. Now they glowed a vivid inexperienced, and the river ran with a roar, carrying dozens of large logs in its present.

I hoped to succeed in the water’s edge by means of a potholed oilfield street. However a barricade and two personal safety vehicles blocked the best way. Inside one of many automobiles, a person lounged again in his seat, seemingly asleep.

It’s solely as a result of I’ve pushed this stretch of Freeway 101 dozens, maybe tons of, of instances that I’ve begun to note that there aren’t any scenic pullouts to attract consideration to the valley’s namesake river, no preserves or riverside parks. Normally, the one signal a river is there in any respect is a blue squiggle on a GPS map—an abstraction that masks the fact, which is that what stays of the river is eternally yoked to business.

The Salinas is uncared for, I believe, partly as a result of it’s by nature a furtive river. It begins as a sequence of obscure streams, lots of that are intermittent, coursing via the chaparral and low-elevation pine forests of the Temblor and Coast ranges. Its anonymity is enhanced by the truth that the river is, for many of its size, inaccessible; it cuts throughout personal property or alongside the margins of small and out-of-the approach cities comparable to Chualar, Gonzalez, San Ardo, Soledad, San Miguel.

These small agricultural cities, based by Spanish settlers and missionaries within the 18th century, are at the moment ensconced in an agricultural panorama that collectively produces 28 p.c of the nation’s strawberries, 57 p.c of its celery, and 70 p.c of its lettuce. Monterey County has additionally turn out to be one of many nation’s main producers of wine grapes. Anytime you’re taking a sip of cabernet or take a chew of Caesar salad, there’s a superb likelihood you’re, in essence, ingesting from the Salinas.

For the final decade, the dearth of water has exacted a mighty toll on the farms and farmworkers of the Salinas Valley. Now the issue was an excessive amount of water—or not less than an excessive amount of of it, too shortly. With 1000’s of acres underwater, scores of farmworkers had been all of the sudden out of labor. Nonetheless, I noticed dozens out within the fields, toiling via the storm. Clad in rainslickers, they hunched over muddy rows of berries and greens, gathering what they might earlier than the floodwaters washed the harvest away. Even in a disaster, the dehumanizing economics of the Salinas Valley prevailed: The lives of the farmworkers had been clearly valued lower than the crops they tended. In the meantime, their very own neighborhoods had been those most impacted by the floods. They had been trapped between rising floodwaters and misplaced wages. The flooding of the Salinas Valley took the best toll on the individuals who might least afford it.