BY: TYLER FYFE
It had been a year of broken records. Mostly though, it had been a year of broken families. The state is suffering the worst drought in 500 years and above the burned-over countryside hangs the acrid smell of over 300,000 blackened acres. When the Santa Ana winds blow from the Mojave Desert, that smell and those flames will move Southward.
As we drove inland from the Pacific, we found ourselves driving through Bakersfield. Three farmers stood outside city hall, cigarettes held between their callused fingertips. They weren’t talking to each other. That was the most haunting part. They just stood there blowing smoke through their teeth and stared at the horribly brown grass of the city hall lawn with the type of hunched posture and universal silence you might find at a funeral.
Maybe they were thinking about what would happen when the water restriction spreads from major cities to croplands. Maybe they were thinking about how it would feel to stand in line outside the food bank and serve their families preserved carrots imported from China. But by the way their backs were bent–like Atlas but in dirty denim and mesh baseball caps–my guess is that they were thinking about how the Central Valley cropland is responsible for two thirds of the nation’s produce. My guess is they were thinking about the dust kicking up from their fields and settling on the kitchen tables of complete strangers across the country.
Stories Behind The Stories is a series where our editors give you a glimpse at the micro-journeys behind our biggest stories. Think of it as a confessional, a testament to the unpredictability of the road, the hurdles jumped, people met and the lingering memories of adversity.
Image Sourcing: kalw.org