January welcomed the New Year with thick layers of fog that crept through agricultural fields, stretched over glassy wetland waters, and clouded the busy highways of the Central Valley. Under a sky washed out with textured gray that stubbornly masked the sun, three determined Audubon California staff set out from Sacramento—with warm coffee and a camera—to capture the many stories and voices of the San Joaquin River. This project was undertaken to publicize how a healthy and flowing river positively impacts whole communities, and has the intention to compel others to advocate and speak up for the future restoration, protection, and appreciation of the San Joaquin River. The resulting conversations recall a sense of community, mutual respect, and a fascination with the natural world.
The storytelling begins nearly three hours from home, where Eric Caine, of Stanislaus Audubon, sat among pictures of smiling family and hard bound books on the birds of North America. When he is asked about his favorite part of the river, he replies knowingly, “. . . Each part of the river has its own charm, and each time of year its special moments. The River is hard to break into parts; the whole experience makes it what it is.”
Further south, Glenn Anderson cracks a wild almond from his farm whose fruit that tastes like black liquorish as his three dogs pout for attention around the kitchen table. Glenn, who runs an organic almond farm in Hilmar, takes his interview under a bare lemon tree and points down the road, “I was born a quarter mile from where I am standing . . . . So I would say that my relationship to the San Joaquin River is an intimate one.”
Mid-day comes quickly but the fog has only thickened and the falling sun slowly takes back whatever warmth it had previously given. The team is losing light, but not spirit. The journey continues as interviewers and interviewees ride smiling along a dirt road with San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust Executive Director Dave Koehler. This will be the first good look at the San Joaquin River all day. A Stellar’s Jay calls from an oak tree as Caitlin Jetter, Cameron Coronado, and Dave curiously wait to hear what each other have to say. The river flows and babbles peacefully in the background as Caitlin, a Fresno native and member of the Watershed Stewards Program, describes wrangling salmon and the perseverance of the river ecosystem despite degradation.
The last interview was conducted as the sun set on a lookout point at the scenic San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust headquarters. Steve Thao, Trout Unlimited’s Outreach Director, vividly described a recent trip canoe fishing on the San Joaquin as transformative, “If I put people on that canoe trip everyone would support the river.”
Documented in this series are a charismatic and diverse group of old friends, partners, fishermen, farmers, and the newest generation of environmental conservationists. In agreeing to brave the sometimes chilly temperatures brought by the iconic Central Valley fog, they were able to share with us that they are indeed for the river. And not only that, but how lucky we all are to have access to a place that is a source of happy memories, natural history, and community.
Visit http://imfortheriver.org/voices-of-the-san-joaquin-river/to listen.