2012 in review. Summary prepared by WordPress.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,200 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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The Excursion Is Not Finished

The Excursion is not finished. But it sure appears to be slumbering.

So far during the Excursion, my productivity has plummeted four times. These occurances are eminently worth examining so as to discover their causes.


Number One: old patterns recurring.

Days into the Excursion, while still at home making plans, I lamented that I had had a setback: I had been idle for a day.

I was reverting to, sad to say, habitual behaviors. After a prolonged period of seemingly inconsequential return on my efforts, I had reduced those efforts. More and more frequently, I was doing less and less. When I missed a day of work in the Excursion, I was reverting.

Not that it is a good thing, but it makes a certain sense.

A dear friend well-schooled in behavior studies put it in these terms: to encourage a given behavior, you provide reinforcements, some reward for having done it. Conversely, when there are no rewards, the behavior will diminish over time.

This pattern of behavior (or non-behavior) is also called learned helplessness.

When promoting a given behavior, it must receive at least occasional rewards. Also, patterns of behavior are important. It is easy to behave in the way to which one has become accustomed.


Number Two: too many choices.

This was in Sacramento. I arrived there, full of anticipation, and immediately ceased research. There are two dozen museums in Sacramento and I did no research?? Yes, and the reason is precisely because there are two dozen museums. Which should I visit? What would advance the Excursion story? The extent of choices paralyzed me.

When promoting a given behavior, it is good practice to provide only a limited number of choices.


Number Three: tried to involve person whose agenda did not support mine.

The third time my productivity dropped was in Chico. I had planned to visit my friend Allie and take her with me on some of my research jaunts in that region. Unfortunately, Allie’s agenda did not align with mine. It was very hard for her to commit to any plan. Delay became the rule, and I became sucked up in that.

When promoting a given behavior, it is important to exclude people who are not supportive of the behavior.


Number Four: arrival home.

Immediatly upon my return, my productivity (measured in writing) plummeted. I should have seen it coming.

For one thing, it SEEMED like the end, the culmination. Although the Excursion project was never synonymous with the road trip, the symbolism of completing the journey after eight weeks on the road was too hard to resist. I recognize now that it is important to avoid designing a grand finale event into a project before the actual end of the project.

Second, there’s that editing thing again. Is this something that provides gain? If it is, there is no question but that I should pursue it. If, on the contrary, it is unlikely to yield any profit, it becomes something that I should edit out of my to-do list. That uncertainty has contributed to my inacton.

Yet a third reason for my low productivity after my return: I no longer had any triggers to do anything. Gone were the days of explore, make art, research, write, blog. As my friend BJ Fogg elucidates, specific cues to act constitute a key ingredient in promoting a behavior.


It should be noted, however, that writing is not the only valid measure of productivity. I HAVE been reviewing, learning, and thinking. For example, at the time of occurance of these pitfalls, I was unaware of the reasons. The Excursion itself has brought clarity and understanding.

It has been a heck of a learning tool, this Great Valley Excursion.


Thanks for following along on the Great Valley Excursion. Of course, I relish your comments–easy to add, below.

You can also view, and obtain, artwork and photographs at my online gallery.

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The Great Valley Changes 2: Invaders

The Great Valley Changes 2 (Invaders)

As I mentioned in the previous blog post, the Great Valley has been changing very rapidly in the last two hundred years, and it is likely that change continues as fast as ever.

These transformations have produced some astounding gains. Yet for every gain there is also a loss. All too often, that second half of the equation gets little attention.

The previous post was about water. This one considers invaders of the Great Valley.


The first humans came into North America, including the Great Valley, some twelve thousand years ago. Some people suggest that the extinction of mammoths and other large game throughout the continent was due to the activity of these early pioneers.

For milenia, the Great Valley appeared to be a pristine natural environment. This was not so. The Indians carefully managed the land to optimize vegetation and wildlife for their benefit.

As I mentioned, though, the most dramatic changes have come within the last two centuries..

French trappers came to the Great Valley in the early 1800s in search of fur pelts to trade. The town of French Camp, just south of Stockton, was the southernmost of their settlements. These trappers inadvertently introduced malaria and other diseases, devestating the Native American populations.

The next invaders were the Spanish (and Mexicans, after Mexico gained its independence). In contrast to the trappers, they had designs on large-scale occupation. A distinctive culture evolved within this Spanish/Mexican population. They became known as Californios.

Although there were some explorers in the Valley as early as 1776, they mainly stayed along the coast until the early 1800s.

The Great Valley had several land grant ranchos, but never any substantial settlements. Placenames, such as Sacramento, San Joaquin and Chico, are almost all that remain.

Their missions and ranchos required a substantial workforce to advance their economic activities. The stated ideal of transforming the native population into citizens never gained much acceptance, and the Californios soon applied their energies into transforming Native Americans, effectively, into slaves.

Disease and cultural disruption decimated the Indian population.

The succesive incursion was mostly from The States back east. Americans began to trickle in during the 1840s. The newcomers overthrew the regional government, and transformed California from a Mexican state into a sovereign republic. That lasted about a month, at which time California was admitted into the Union.

Gold was discovered on the east side of the Great Valley in 1848, and the invasion began in earnest. They flooded in from all over the world, but especially from back east.

The general attitude could be summarized

Great things are afoot. Don’t even THINK about getting in the way!

For most of whoever was here before, things went quite badly.

Things didn’t pan out for most of the miners, either. Pretty soon, they were looking for other ways to make a living. Thus began the wholesale conversion of (more or less) natural habitats to farmland.

Today, the farmland itself is being converted. People in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay area are being driven out by high real estate prices. Developers in the Valley, seeing an opportunity to profit from these latest invaders, are ripping out crops and putting in housing tracts. The new developments have an aesthetic that is very different from the towns, and most certainly the farms, they replace.

And until or unless those new developments are bulldozed, the resource is lost. Planning, or lack thereof, will determine whether or not the Great Valley remains one of the richest agricultural areas on the planet.

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The Great Valley Changes 1

The Great Valley Changes Part 1


The Great Valley of California has undergone some remarkable transformations. The rapidity of change during the last two centuries is astounding. I see no reason to think it is slowing down.

With changes, there are always winners and losers. It’s never a zero-sum game. And changes rarely come with much forethought regarding any but the most immediate consequences.


A lot of the changes seen by the Great Valley have involved water. Before intervention, availability of water was highly clustered. What I mean is that both in location and season of the year, there was either a lot or not very much.

It wasn’t very long ago that you had to be much pickier about where you tried to drive your vehicle, and when and where you planted your crops. Smoothing out the distribution has enabled year-round roads through the center of the Valley and the intense agriculture that charactizes the Valley today.

Water continues to be one of the most important issues. There are two sources: surface water and ground water.

The surface water depends on precipitation from winter storms. Most falls on the Sierra and drains back down into the Valley. A lot of people crave this precious resource. Much is sent to the huge urban centers in southern California. Agriculture and the growing population within the Valley also demand huge amounts.

Disputes and political battles demonstrate that there is not enough for current usage patterns. I saw plenty of signs along the road accusing politicians of driving farmers out of business. Wherever one points the finger of blame, everyone wants more.

Plans are underway to divert more water away from the Delta in order to serve places like Los Angeles. Without a minimum flush rate, the salt water from the Pacific will back up into the Delta, drastically changing its ecology and suitability for agriculture. Some say the planned diversion will pass that threshold.

To complicate matters, the climate is changing. The sea level is projected to rise. We can guess what effect that will have on the Delta. Rainfall patterns will surely change as well.

In addition to surface water, underground aquifers are an important supply. In many places, wells pump out this water much faster than it is being replenished. Water tables are dropping drastically. Pumping expenses rise, and water quality falls.

Irrigating with water high in mineral content degrades the soil. The soil is not renewable.

There is no status quo. Shifts in availability, demand, use, and quality are ongoing. I don’t see much evidence of long-range planning.

[Part 2 of Great Valley Changes is about Invaders!]

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The Importance of Editing

During the road trip, something I did a lot was editing photographs. I’d look at two, carefully deciding which was the more worthy. In this manner I found the very best, and I discarded the ones that I was not going to use.

I did that same thing even within a single photograph. Perhaps if I cropped a little off the bottom, or a quarter inch off the right, it would be even better.

In writing, the same process applied.  Which of all my experiences were worth recording? Most did not make the cut. After (or during) that, I had to decide which ones advanced the overall story.

It goes further up the hierarchy. Each day, I chose where I would go and what I would do. Each choice was an act of editing. The whole of the project sometimes pivoted on the decisions of a single day.

Thus, a lesson:

So it has been my whole life, and so it continues to be.

Toward the beginning of this project, I remarked on a particular art piece which languished, uncompleted. The piece remains unfinished even now. Editing has shown me that it is not a “keeper.”

So what about the last leg of the road trip? The one from Porterville down to Bakersfield, completing the Excursion’s great misshapen oval?  I clearly have not written it yet.

Part of the reason is editing. It is very hard to determine whether creating that post is worthwhile or not.

There are other reasons as well, reasons I would not have recognized but for the Excursion.

[If writing another post makes the cut, I’ll share some more. –Ed.]


Thanks for following along on the Great Valley Excursion. Join in the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #GVExc, and check out the Facebook Fan Page. Of course, I relish your comments–easy to add, below.

You can also view, and obtain, artwork and photographs at my online gallery.


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From Exeter, keeping the mountains on my left (as has been my general guide for the Excursion) brought me to Porterville.

The earliest visit from a European to this area was in 1806. Gabriel Moraga and 25 soldiers had been sent out to see if there were a good place for a mission, and to hunt down Indians who had escaped from the missions on the coast.

A marker under a big oak commemorates his visit.

Gabriel Moraga monument, Porterville

Moraga monument

Very near where Porterville is now, they found a village of 400 Yokuts. The Excursion has revealed very little extant Indian culture, so I was surprised to discover that there are Yokuts living here now. There is a reservation and a casino about fifteen miles up in the foothills. A banner in downtown Porterville announced a pow wow coming up in a few weeks.

This was evidently a pretty lively place in the late 1800s, with fifty saloons and fifty churches. And some decades before that, I was told, Joaquin Murrieta, the notorious bandit, used to come here for rest and relaxation. You can still pick up some of that Old West vibe by gazing down Main Street.

Main Street, Porterville

The route through Porterville, up against the Sierra foothills, used to be the main way to travel up and down the San Joaquin Valley. Getting a wagon or a horse through all those wetlands and waterways out in the flatlands was just too tough.

The railroads came through here, too. The stately Southern Pacific depot, built in 1913, is now home to the Porterville History Museum.

A few miles south of town, I pulled off the road to get my bearings. To my surprise, a little historical marker peeked out from a hedge.

Plano historical marker

There was a town here named Plano. It had been for many years the foremost transportation, trade and agricultural center for miles around.

Plano was settled in 1861 by some pioneers from Texas. They dug a ditch to bring irrigation water down from the hills, and the first the region’s orange groves were planted here. By 1915 there was nothing left of the town.


Thanks for following along on the Great Valley Excursion. Join in the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #GVExc, and check out the Facebook Fan Page. Of course, I relish your comments–easy to add, below.

You can also view, and obtain, artwork and photographs at my online gallery.


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Cairns Corner, Lindsay Olives

Cairns Corner

I was in Porterville, about to revise my map to reflect my day’s journey, when I realized I had left my art materials at the Kaweah Motel in Exeter. Fortunately, backtracking twenty miles was not a great inconvenience.

Having retrieved my paper, pencils and pens, I set off toward Bakersfield, the final leg of the Excursion. Midway between Exeter and Lindsay, a fruit stand I had noticed the day before caught my attention. It would be nice to bring some fresh produce to my friends the Mersereaus, I thought, so I stopped.

As I pulled off the road and parked under a big olive tree, I noticed a granite marker.

Granite marker, Cairns Corner, near Lindsay.

Lindsay olives are famous. This is where it all started, the marker explained. In 1894, JJ Cairns planted olives as a windbreak for his new orange grove. The marker didn’t say, but maybe it was this very row of trees.

It wasn’t until I started talking with the two high school boys running the stand that I realized this farm is still owned by the same Cairns family. It had escaped my notice, but the name of the stand is Cairns Corner.

Oscar, one of the two attendants, has worked for Mr. Cairns for four years. He told me he likes dealing with the people who come to buy produce, and it shows.

I asked Oscar the classic interview question, “where do you see yourself in five years?” His response was “Not here.”

I advised Oscar that soon he would hear that question often, and he would be wise to prepare some good answers.

Chad has only worked here for about a month. He plans to go to college to study agriculture. I was interested to note that he attends the World Ag Expo with his FFA group every year.


Thanks for following along on the Great Valley Excursion. Join in the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #GVExc, and check out the Facebook Fan Page. Of course, I relish your comments–easy to add, below.

You can also view, and obtain, artwork and photographs at my online gallery.


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Serpentine and How the Great Valley Was Formed

Serpentine and How the Great Valley was Formed

As I pored over aerial photos in preparation for the Great Valley Excursion, I noticed several blue-green hills along the eastern side of the San Joaquin Valley (the southern portion of the Great Valley). With help from John Linford and his huge geological map, we identified these as serpentine (and related rocks).

Most valleys are carved out by rivers; not so here. A part of the Great Valley Excursion story simply had to be how the Valley came into existence in the first place. I hoped that these serpentine hills would help me tell that story.

Although my aerial photos show these hills to be greenish, they don’t look that way from ground level.

The green becomes evident when you slice them open, as in these road cuts.

Serpentine is a metamorphic rock. Just as a butterfly starts out as something else, so too does serpentine. That something else had been deep ocean floor.



How did these chunks of ocean floor come to be foothills of the Sierra Nevada? The coast is a hundred miles away, the lip of the continental shelf another sixty.

Some time ago–whether it was a long time or a short time is a matter of perspective–this area was at the edge of North America. Dinosaurs roamed the earth back then, but it was those giant sea lizards, plesiosaurs and mosasaurs, that swam around here. You can still find their bones.

The ocean floor was getting shoved to the east, North America was getting shoved to the west, and the collision zone was offshore. The continent rode over the top, and the ocean floor dove down under it.

This caused a lot of turmoil. Rocks got twisted and churned. Some melted. In all the chaos, a mountain range raised up where our Sierra Nevada is today.

That old mountain range isn’t the Sierra we have now. A lot of it washed down into the sea, adding layers of sediment onto the continental shelf–the area that is now our Great Valley.

By the time the dinosaurs died off, the old range was more like rolling hills. Ten million years later, one of the rivers draining the eroded mountains formed a delta in the shallow sea. It left a big deposit of clay, just where the city of Lincoln is today.

Between then and now, the Coast Ranges rose up. Sharks and fish lived in the inland sea. Whales and sea lions swam here too, although they didn’t quite look like the ones living today.

All the pushing and shoving, grinding and sliding of those tectonic plates got things pretty hot. Resultant magma rose toward the surface right under the gently rolling ancient Sierra Nevada. Some broke through. The mudflows that filled up the old valleys by Chico and Knights Ferry came from those eruptions. A lot of that magma, though, just slowly cooled and turned into granite.

About five million years ago, that huge block of granite broke along the eastern edge and began to tilt up and toward the west. That’s the magnificent mountain range bordering the eastern edge of today’s Great Valley. About the same time, the inland sea was cut off from the ocean, and the Valley was no longer under water.

Somewhere in that chain of events, hunks of that old ocean floor that had been shoved under the edge of North America ended up right here. Maybe they hitched a ride up on those plumes of magma–you’ll have to ask a geologist.


Thanks for following along on the Great Valley Excursion. Join in the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #GVExc, and check out the Facebook Fan Page. Of course, I relish your comments–easy to add, below.

You can also view, and obtain, artwork and photographs at my online gallery.


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East Valley Road

East Valley Road

From Exeter down to Porterville, I followed Hwy 65. A minor road now, it was once the Great Valley’s major north-south thoroughfare. It may regain that prominence in a few years.

Traveling up and down the middle of the Valley used to be pretty tough. Rivers and creeks spead out in the great flatness, and a lot of areas were wetlands, especially following the winter rains and snowmelt from the Sierra. Here, along the foothills, watercourses were better defined and easier to cross.

The old Los Angeles-Stockton Road used this route. Every river had its ferry.

In the 1950s, California was developing plans for a great freeway network. Envisioned through the Great Valley were the Westside Freeway (I-5), 99, and the Eastside Freeway.

In the 1970s, priorities were redirected. Less than one hundred miles of the 300-mile freeway were developed, and there is a very big gap between Exeter and Roseville.

As population in the Valley grows, there will be greater need for transportation. The Eastside Freeway may well be a part of that.


Thanks for following along on the Great Valley Excursion. Join in the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #GVExc, and check out the Facebook Fan Page. Of course, I relish your comments–easy to add, below.

You can also view, and obtain, artwork and photographs at my online gallery.


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Town of Murals

Town of Murals

East of Visalia, tucked right against the foothills, is Exeter.

I read up beforehand, and found that a lot of dustbowl refugees settled here in the 30s. This even left a mark on the regional accent and cuisine.

To research this, I pulled out all the stops: I went to the barbershop.

Jesse Rodriguez trimmed my hair and beard. His roots are in the South–south of the border. The shop concensus was that the best place in town for food was Vallarta’s, a Mexican restaurant. Nobody could think of any place that might specialize in, say, country fried steak, grits or black-eyed peas. All throughout town I strained my ears to detect a hint of a southern drawl.

I did find that folks around here are scrounging for work. Small-time marijuana horticulturalists are apparently common and held in high regard.

Other crops are bigger, though. This is in the citrus belt. I used to love driving through here on my way between Lancaster and Stockton, especially in the spring. I’d roll down the windows and breathe in mile after mile of heavenly orange blossom perfume.

Exeter has what they call an outdoor art gallery. There are twenty-nine murals on walls all over downtown. It might be just my imagination, but I think of all the places the Excursion has taken me, Exeter is about the best connected with its past, its present, and its environment.


The one featuring WWII aviators seems to be a favorite around town.

Can you tell where the mural ends? Look at the car (real) in lower right.


Thanks for following along on the Great Valley Excursion. Join in the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #GVExc, and check out the Facebook Fan Page. Of course, I relish your comments–easy to add, below.

You can also view, and obtain, artwork and photographs at my online gallery.


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