The Many Deaths of California

When “the big one” strikes California, the state isn’t going to fall into the Ocean the way so many Arizonans who want beachfront property like to imagine. But there are many ways to die. In The New York Times, author Daniel Duane writes about what he calls the Golden State’s “sense of unraveling” and its associated “profound mood of loss.” Drought. Forest fire. Air pollution. Gentrification. Loss of open space. Skyrocketing real estate costs and traffic and sweeping changes in values. The California Duane and many natives love is rapidly disappearing, but it always has been. For everyone who feels conflicted and paralyzed about loving a place that’s being loved to death, Duane offer a reappraisal of California, change, and the way we think about place.

Confusing one’s own youth with the youth of the world is a common human affliction, but California has been changing so fast for so long that every new generation gets to experience both a fresh version of the California dream and, typically by late middle-age, its painful death.

For Gold Rush prospectors, of course, that dream was about shiny rocks in the creeks — at least until 300,000 people from all over the world, in the space of 10 years, overran the state and snatched up every nugget. Insane asylums filled with failed argonauts and the dream was dead — unless you were John Muir walking into Yosemite Valley in 1868. Ad hoc genocide, committed by miners, settlers and soldiers, had so devastated the ancient civilizations of the Sierra Nevada that Muir could see those mountains purely as an expression of God’s glory.

Read the story