Owens Valley, Land of Surprises
The Owens Valley is a source of continual surprise, even though I'm only there a few days a year. I travel with a group of painters from the Henry Fukuhara Workshop (although I do not paint). Watching them offers another way to look at things, although the underlying principles are pretty consistent. This year we were able to spend time in Swansea, courtesy of the Center for Land Use Interpretation and the folk who scout out and arrange places of interest. Swansea was a thriving miner's town back in the day (in the 1870s), taking its name from the hometown of the Welsh miners who came to extract, smelt and transport silver ore from the Cerro Gordo mines. That was before the 1872 Lone Pine earthquake that lifted the lake shoreline, and the debris flow in 1874 pretty much wiped out what remained. I looked at a Google satellite image of the area--I could follow the path of the last debris flow from a few years back; it flowed right through what was Swansea. However, there is an amazing persistence and resilience in people who live there that drives them to make things work out one way or another. Restoration and rebuilding are common themes. There is also an acceptance that nature is the 300-pound gorilla.
It is not an easy environment as regional author Mary Austin knew well. Referring to "this brown land" she called it "the land of little rain" in her writings. And it is not easy to believe that it was once, in glacial times, this valley was filled with 250 feet of water. But the glaciers are long gone and the landscape has changed many times over. What amazes me is the path that the Owens River still takes through the valley. It sways a slender green thread that slips through the brown and yellow land holding the grand crazy quilt together, refusing to give in.