Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Emperor Norton envisioned BART and the Bay Bridge, time to rename the bridge after him

His Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I, aka Joshua A Norton

The idea for an underwater transbay tube along the bottom of San Francisco Bay was originally proposed in the 19th century by an eccentric—some say, a mad hatter character—Emperor Norton, the self-proclaimed "Emperor of these United States and Protector of Mexico." Joshua Norton, who once abolished congress, was literature's muse for many writers from Mark Twain, and Robert Louis Stevenson, to Neil Gaiman.

The first real transbay proposal was submitted by the builder of the Panama Canal in 1920—essentially the same plan that BART used to build the world's longest and deepest sunken tunnel (in 1965-69, it opened in 1973). The tunnel, technically a tube, as it lies along the bottom of the bay like a snake, withstood the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake which destroyed sections of the Bay Bridge. It seemed like a crazy idea at the time, to tunnel under the bay, but Norton thought of it first. As well as a bridge. I guess he didn’t like ferries.

But I digress. Definitely canals were invoked. Perhaps not the famous palindrome: a man, a plan, a canal—Panama! In my case, it was ear canals. Stuffed ones. I don’t recommend taking BART under the bay with a headcold. Thinking of Norton, I practiced snorkel snorts both descending to the bottom of the bay floor and ascending to the SF Embarcadero stop. The pain was excruciating. The trick is to know when to blow—too much pressure and you'll damage your eardrum. And maybe find your brain splatted against the far wall. In my case, that might have been a mixed blessing.

What lies below, and so, above. There have been several unsuccessful attempts to name all, or parts of the Bay Bridge after Emperor Norton—another one of his brainchildren. It didn’t take. But one can hope. No one can agree as to when when Norton was actually born, which made it rather tricky to celebrate his centennial birthday. Norton was born in England circa 1814 to 1818, wait, 1819? (maybe it was a long, protracted birth), but we do know that he spent his childhood in South Africa. After his parents died, he sailed to San Francisco in 1849—right in time for the gold rush. 

Cleveland Elementary School Day 8 teaching notes: Hands, journal

We began our class a little late because I could not get online via Zoom for the longest time. No matter that I had tried to join too early which thoroughly confused Zoom. That was OK because Ms. Loser was talking with the kids as to how she spent her weekend, and how she would spend her Easter break. I realized that these normalizing moments are important. That led to a segue into April Fool’s Day. 

I asked them what they thought April Fool’s Day was all about. We got some interesting answers. I told them that during Roman times, the beginning of the year was in spring which was in March, and April 1 was sort of an extra holiday where people could clown around and do silly things. I said that in the medieval world, about 1200 years later, the court jester could actually be king for a day, and people could change places, step outside of their normal roles—usually this happened before Lent. I asked students if they had ever played an April Fool’s Day trick on anyone. Some kids told me what they planned to do which was quite funny as it usually involved fooling their parents.

Because Mr. Grant wasn’t with us last week I use the opportunity as a teaching moment, to have the students recap what we did last week by telling to Mr. Grant. Recall. Cameron gave a really good synopsis: he told Mr. Grant how we wrote about odes, which were small songs to ordinary everyday things, and we included what it reminded them of, their feelings, and memories. I asked them, did they write the poem from the point of view of their object, or were they speaking about it? They agreed, they were talking about it. We were discussing narrative, and the idea that sometimes an object itself could speak. I suggested that they might want to try having an object tell a story during Freewrite.

We yoga stretched, we breathed deep, we shook out our hands, we made starfish hand, and we made moose antlers. And I told them that making moose antlers was a visual sign to cue your audience in that you were going to change the subject and say something completely different. I was secretly leading them up to today’s lesson plan. So we wrote for five minutes. I said they could write about anything they want to as long as they used comparisons and strong imagery. I said, you could go back and revisit an old lesson, you could write from the point of view of your object telling you a story, or you could even choose a different object to write about. But Freewrite was like warming up before a soccer game. I said if you get stuck you can write down I don’t know what to write about and see what else comes up. I wrote: 

Thursday, March 25, 2021



She asked, Why did Yeats call willows sally trees?
I answered without thinking, saileach,
as if that explained everything, and said,
I speak more Irish than the average bear.
But then it hit me, an epiphany—I was gobsmacked.
Bears don’t speak much by way of Irish, now, do they?
Not to mention there are no more bears in Ireland
other than the one in a Dublin business park.


Tuesday, March 23, 2021


Ode to the Adirondack chairs
that hunker down on my bookshelf, 
toy models dreaming of a past 
where a young man constructed them,
another facsimile, another lifetime,
still he choose each board carefully 
for grain warp and and texture
as if he were building a sailboat.
Place-holders for other chairs 
that once graced summer porches 
say, at the cabin by the lake 
where the afternoon wind 
ruffled and knitted the water
into a frothy shawl,
and the family reminisced, 
told stories, threading the past
to the present.
And the occasional slap 
and splash of fish 
leaping skyward 
toward the clouds, 
interrupted daydreams 
of summers long lost, 
where the family once gathered. 
But the cabin was sold 
when the grandparents died, 
and the family, 
once united by those chairs, 
scattered to the four winds,
set sail for other realms.


Cleveland Elementary School Day 7 teaching notes: Neruda’s Odes, journal

When I joined the class, the fourth grade students were talking of difficult math and how they were having trouble getting it, how they felt so rushed. They have not learned how to ask for help. I said that I really sucked at math but my math teacher was extraordinary man. We talked about favorite teachers. I have worked with many teachers, I said that Mr. Sugarman, who is teaching you math, is a really great teacher, like Ms. Loeser. These are the people that will stick with you all your life. Then I told them the story of my math teacher, Archie Williams, a long distance runner who didn’t succeed in turning me into a math whiz— which is ironic because so many people in my family are math wizards. But not me. But I remember his stories. And that’s equation enough.

Archie was an athlete from Oakland who broke many barriers, not only did he break racial barriers, he broke a track record with Jesse Owen in the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics. He also broke records in the sky, he was a Tuskeegee pilot and he taught pilots how to fly fighter jets. In those days, African-American men could not be pilots but Archie came along and he changed things, so I asked this, what is important to you? What juices you? Asking them if they understood what the term juicing means and they said yes. I asked, where does time stand still for you? Or disappear completely? 

One student said that when he plays video games, he completely forgets about time. Many similar electronic devices were rabbit holes, or wormholes of time. I asked them to identify a place where they lost time and to do a freewrite on it. I said it doesn’t have to be a poem. I asked them what are some other things they did during the course of a day, where they lose track of time? Another said that she loved to watch the timer ticking away, knowing when something would end. Boundaries, a different approach to time.

We got into a lively discussion about sports. Ms. Loeser mentioned a story about baseball. We talked about baseball, how time stands still. I asked Ms. Loeser what does it mean when I say it’s the top of the ninth and the bases are loaded? We add more data, the teams are tied, it’s ball two, strike two. Like poetry, baseball is a specialized language, and it’s really about suspended time. When Archie told us about winning the 440 m race, he said the time stood still. It was as if he was in suspended animation.

One thing that’s amazing about this distance-learning teaching process is that you can bring extraneous things in, like this old poem which I would totally never be prepared to share. O Brave New World. We are Caliban lurking in the cave, we are Miranda discovering the treasure. 

We read a bit from Casey at the Bat and I asked about what do we know of this culture, through this poem written in 1888? Team spirit, identity, mud. I tell them, as poets, we are archaeologists mining the past. As poets, we are anthropologists examining culture. We are observers examining everything. We are sleuths looking for clues. We put on our poetry eyes. They notice that the poem is written in paragraphs, I tell them the word for it is a stanza in poetry. We also note how it rhymes. I say that poems don’t have to rhyme, but that was the style in the 1880s.

I talked about what I’m working on right now—the short biographies that I’m writing on Irish American women for Women’s Herstory month. And how in the morning, whenever I read or write—even something boring or banal, like correcting typos, I lose all track of time where 20 minutes becomes 45 minutes—just like that. Sometimes I look down and read for five minutes and the next thing I know, I am late for class, I’m late for appointments, I am late for everything. 

Creativity juices us, it makes us forget about time. That’s the happy place where we want to be. Someone talked about his piano, how he loses time playing it. I say music is like that, it makes us lose track of time. I also tell them that today we will be talking about odes which are a kind of song but in poetic format. Next time I think I will bring in the Salvador Dalí painting with all the melting clocks, The Persistence of Memory.

Sunday, March 21, 2021


When I was in Ecuador I stood on the equatorial line with one foot in the northern hemisphere and my left foot in the southern hemisphere, as I gazed west, toward the ocean, towards the Southern Cross, I marveled how darkness fell like a curtain, much more suddenly on the equator than in the northern hemisphere. No preamble of twilight.

Jeanne D’Orge, Carmel’s patron saint of the arts


Jeanne D’Orge, neé Lena, or Emma Yates, was born in Cheshire, England in 1887 (or 1877). When her father, a seed merchant, deserted the family, she and her mother moved to the outskirts of Edinburgh. 

Lena moved back to England and published her first poems at 20, and wrote a series of children's books on animal fables under the pen name of Lena Dalkeith—playing on a combination of her birthname, Lena, and the quaint Midlothian village of Dalkeith, near Edinburgh, where she was raised. Thus was the beginning of a woman of many identities.

While on a walking holiday in France in 1906, Lena was swept off her feet by geographer and engineer, widower Alfred Burton (dean of M.I.T.) who was perhaps 22 (another account says 30) years her senior. Lena and her mother joined Burton and his two sons in Newton Grange, Massachusetts where she and Alfred were married. 

A pioneering modernist poet, Lena became involved with The Others, a poetry group that included Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, and Wallace Stevens; she began publishing her work in literary magazines including Others, Scribners, and Poetry. Some of her prose poems were published under the name Lena Dalkeith Burton.

Suffering from poor health, and a profound dislike of east coast weather (and chilly New England mores), Lena fled to sunny San Diego, then up the coast to Carmel-by-the-Sea in 1920 with her 3 children in tow—where she built a Craftsman style house. Her husband retired from M.I.T, and joined her a year later. (But they were divorced in 1925, according to one source). They were active in community theater, with Dr. Burton building sets and acting in Forest Theater productions. Lena wrote and produced a series of Commedia dell’ Arte styled plays, including Crazy Ann, under the penname of Lena Burton.

In 1928 Lena created a scandal when she left her children with her (ex-)husband to live with the Forest Theater lighting technician, and M.I.T. graduate, Carl Cherry, some 20 years her junior. They converted his mother’s old Queen Anne cottage, a wedding gift (they were married in 1930), into an art studio for Lena, and a workshop for Cherry. 

During the lean years, they lived off canned tuna and coffee. She began painting in earnest in 1937, and Carl Cherry struck paydirt when one of his inventions, the one-sided blind rivet, revolutionized airplane and shipbuilding construction during the war years. Lena took up her artist name Jeanne D'Orge, after a river in France, having shed all vestiges of her past lives. For D'Orge painting embodied the intangible moods of form, color, and feelings that cannot be expressed in poetry or music.

The Cherrys carried on as before, living a simple lifestyle, but used their newfound fortune to establish the philanthropic Cherry Foundation to "further the culture of America by sponsoring experimental fine arts, sciences and education." The foundation underwrote arts events, concerts, plays, lectures and seminars often featuring world class lecturers and performers. 

She became fast friends with Robinson Jeffers and Edward Weston, and wrote plays under the pseudonym of Juniper Green, after a neighboring village near Edinburgh. 

After her husband Carl Cherry died of cancer in 1947, D'Orge continued to run the Carl Cherry Center for the Arts, and "often appeared on the streets of Carmel wearing a big pink hat, ankle length Chinese robes and paint-stained tennis shoes." She died in 1964. Her former home, now an art center, houses over 1200 pieces of her art, plus letters, books, manuscripts, photos and memorabilia, as well as an extensive library.  

—Maureen Hurley, Vernal Equinox 2021

I published this in Facebook’s California History page, it garnered 322 likes and was shared 80 times. a runaway success story in the tiny realm of publishing that I’m most familiar with. I originally published a version of this embedded with my 1998 Pat Wall posts, more here. But his stands alone as a post as well.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Cleveland Elementary School Day 6 teaching notes: I Am & Chain poems, journal

During the week, Ms. Loeser gave students homework to create their own chain poems, but the students wrote singular words down the page—a shopping list—and from the examples, it sounds like they did not take it to the next step, which was to flush out the list to create their own poems. So, we decided to go back and expand our ideas from last week's lesson and begin again. 

I said they could revisit last week's poem, or they could visit another older lesson, or write something entirely new—as long as it had a comparison in it. Atziri wrote about lemonade, but didn't have comparisons. So we identified places where she could add or expand her ideas. First you pick the lemons, then you cut them, heir insides like the sun, then you squeeze them, add sugar, water, ice, The sound of ice in a glass in hot summer. She worked on it some more to flesh it out.

Returning to the theme of a chain poem, writing down 5 to 6 nouns or verbs down the page and filling in the poem around those linked words (adapted from an old Teachers&Writers lesson) we made a group poem choosing 5 associative nouns. We brainstormed: ice, city, mountains, snow, grass. I said, you might find this assignment easier if you write it down first on paper. Writing is messy, we often change our minds and cross things out. it's OK. I hold up some writing with lots of cross-outs by way of example. We wrote:

Freezing ice from ancient glaciers
moves freely toward the city where the mist rises
and surrounds the mountains of trash
where the snow melts
and where the grass grows toward the sun.

    Class poem, Ms. Loeser's 4th Grade

After our second freewrite, a few students shared their work. Whenever a cool line comes up, I repeat it aloud. Or ask a student to read it again so we can savor the imagery. Most notable were the stellar poems of Natalie and Emily. They are naturals.

Monday, March 15, 2021



So, who was your Uncle Jack? 
Was he gracious or was he a supplanter?
Was he a player, or was he a caltrops?
A game of jacks, a jack-tar, a sea dog, 
or a small pirate flag flown from a ship’s mast?
Was he a five pound note hidden in a deep pocket?
High Five, Jack's alive. Give Jack back his jacket. 
Give the man his dues. Did he jack you up?
Was he Jack Daniels, or a jack of all trades? 
Was he a knave? Did he make you cry uncle 
as he rode slipshod across your nightmares? 
Was he a diamond in the rough?
Jack of diamonds come with big news.
All jack of hearts on a Saturday night.
A spade of all trades, a dangerous club.
Was he foolproof, 40 proof, or jackshit?
Did he jack the car, taking it for a joyride?
Jacked up on a Saturday night?
Perhaps an audio jack come to steal your music.
If you can’t question the answer, 
or the outcome, then you don’t know jack. 
Hit the road, Jack! Don’t bother closing 
the barn door, the horse is long gone.

SPRING FORWARD, after Neruda’s questions

Where does the daylight go 
in order to save time?
Is it kept in a dark vault
deep in a lake, or in Geneva?
The study of horology aside,
as the study of time itself is fluid,
when does daylight withdraw time
and where does it deposit it—
in the golden vaults of the sun?
Is it pure verb or all noun?
If it’s an adjective, where did that S go?
What was it trying to save?
Why do we spring forward 
only to fall back again?
What is the compound interest rate?
And is there an early penalty 
for late withdrawal?

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Publishing track record

In the mid-1990s, I looked at my publishing record, which was pretty good, I had either placed, or won several awards, but so many magazines began asking for readers fees, I realized that my publishing effort was like funding a vanity press. And when I added it all up, it cost me more to publish my poems than the prize money that I won. Done. Also, a bad car accident in the late 1990s derailed me. I was so PTSD, it took a long time to work my way back to the writer’s hut. Why I went back to school to get my MA, etc., was to reboot my brain. Now everything is “published” in my blog as it were. Catch and release.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021


Above Victoria‘s head, the gilded fan,
like a golden bird, graces the wall.
She twirls and twists her long dark hair up in a knot.
It becomes a comb holding up a mantilla to the sky.
We cannot escape the confines of our rooms, 
but she time travels across the universe anyway.
She has a field of virtual stars behind her.
The fan is painted with cypress trees 
or perhaps willow, I can’t tell from this distance.
She tells me There is a bird nests in their branches.
It is a poem referring back to the ancient past,
perhaps by Wu Wei, a deep canyon, 
that faint promise of spring.
She combs and brushes her hair,
a wave, or a river singing of sorrow and hope.
She is like a Chinese princess of olden times
softly singing in the garden, 
while the birds come to listen.



Across a turbulent sea,
the waves quail and argue
about who goes first.
It’s a desert of thought in my mind.
They roar and toss the boats
loosened from their moorings,
lost on stormy seas,
and the blindness is deafening
against the rocks.


Cleveland Elementary School Day 5 teaching notes: Chain poems, 4th Grade, Oakland, journal

Day five, hump week. It’s four weeks until spring break. We chitchat and discuss the origin of April Fool’s Day, it falls on a Thursday. Ms. Loser tells us a story of how she once sent a memo out to her colleagues saying that there was no school on April Fools’ Day, and because they didn’t read to the end of the letter that said April Fool’s! everybody believed her and didn’t come to school. And then someone piped up, Don’t you have to wear green on April Fools’ Day? That made me laugh and then that was my entrance que, as I was waiting in the wings. I said you have to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. It represents freedom. It would be fun to do something with customs and aphorisms. I say, Thank you Connor, for the poetry lesson idea. He chuffs.

We go over last week’s work which were based on acrostics, and India reads a poem about a sparrow. Because I can see the document on the screen, I say make it look like a poem too. And so we add commas and line breaks. Atziri read a poem about sunflowers. Some of her lines are very long and we talk about indenting three spaces, or using the tab key when a line continues past the confines of the page. 

Today is a little bit more shoptalk, we are delving further into the revisioning and editing process. We focus on how to make it look like a poem. And whether or not it needs punctuation and/or commas. I say one line, one idea. I often make line breaks at commas. I say, one unit of breath, one idea. We talk of personal choices whether or not to punctuate. I mention that like with Emily Dickinson changing the face of poetry, e.e. cummings, who eschewed capitalization and punctuation, also changed the shape of poetry. 

Emily reads a poem from last week, then Natalie—her ocean poem has a lot of potential. I tell her, make it also look like a poem. Again, we reiterate the process of line breaks. We also discuss using strong verbs versus weak verbs. I tell her that I cannot see the word fun. I cannot see the word get. I cannot see the word go. Are there stronger verbs we can use to make our poems really sing? We look at the worksheets, lists of verbs and feelings, words for invoking the senses. I tell them, these worksheets in your Google folder are resources for you to use when you get stuck.

Freewrite time—we can revisit old poetry lessons, or write new work. The only thing I am looking for are comparisons. I make the comparison sign—two fists, or two ideas, crashing headlong into each other to create similes and metaphors. 

We breathe deep, we make vroom vroom noises, we shake out our hands, we become race cars, we grab the proverbial steering wheel, and screech out, making our words fly across the page. We drive them around dangerous curves, not braking for what lies ahead. It’s all out, flat out, drag racing through the back roads of memory. Dead man’s curve coming up, the twists and turns in the road become sinuous as snakes. We don’t know where we’re going, or where we’ll end up, but we’re going there, fast as we can, pedal to the metal, across the finish line. But a writer’s work is never done.

Friday, March 5, 2021


As I approached the old stock pond to take a photo of a gaudy wooden decoy duck surrounded by visiting canvasbacks, mallards, and mudhens, I was startled by a stacatto of splashing—it was too much for the ducks who burst into flight. Was someone skimming handfuls of rocks from the levee? No one there. Ghosts? Then I realized those stepping stones lining the shore were dozens of pond turtles—a bale of pond turtles had launched themselves into the murky depths of the water. Though I was far away, I was a threat. In years past, I might’ve considered myself lucky to see a turtle or two, and here were dozens of turtles sunning themselves along the embankment. I thought of the story of Turtle Island. Were they always there in such great numbers and I didn’t know how to see them? Sometimes the oblique glance from the corner of the eye sees far more than what’s right in front of you. I suddenly felt rich, as if I had found a cache of unexpected change hidden in a hole in my pocket.

  • NOTE: THIS POST ALONG WITH 12 OTHER POSTS WAS ERRONEOUSLY REMOVED BY BLOGGER FOR VIOLATING COMMUNITY STANDARDS ON 5/14/21. It was reinstated as a draft the next day. I am still pissed off.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021


Imagine Emily alone in a white room 
wrestling with words.
Sunlight seeps in through lace curtains
The garden beckons, spring unfurls its finery,
seeking the warmth of the sun.
Emily tends to her garden and her words take root
in the depths of the soul, to offer solace
and nourishment during these darkest of times.

Here, amidst the pale greenery of midwinter,
Orange blossoms struggle to reach
     the secret heart of the sun.
Poppies remind the sun of its filial duty to return
Every year, relentless time. The wheel of the year.


Cleveland Elementary School Day 4 teaching notes: HOPE, Acrostix 3/2/21 Journal

3/2 We begin class with housekeeping: I remind my students that they need to use only one Google document with their full name at the top of the page, not several documents. They also need to date each day’s work. I expect at least two poems per day.  I still cannot open any of their documents, nor do I have permission. We are working on it. But for now, the only way I can observe their work is if they screenshare their document when they read.

I remind them that they have two writing times. 1. during freewrite, when we review and share last week’s work. A freewrite could also be brand new work. It’s a good chance to revisit some of the previous week’s poetry lessons and redo them, but you don’t have to. The only thing I am looking for is strong images, and comparisons. The worksheets are there to help you if you need starter lines. During freewrite, I tell them you can write about anything you want, you do not have to revisit an old poetry lesson. Make sure you use comparisons. 2. The new day’s poetry lesson.

Last week we looked at a poem by Emily Dickinson. I tell the students the story of Emily, who was a recluse in her own home, she, who had only 10 poems published during her lifetime, changed the shape of poetry, especially American poetry. And here we are, all of us recluses, we are all Emily, alone in our secret gardens of the mind. I repeat a line, Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul. We hear poems from India, Justin, and Connor, who share their work from last week.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus! A daffodil for Dewi Sant, photos

I'm not sure how the tradition first began, but about 40 years ago, daffodils, sold at a buck a bulb, were planted along Sonoma County roadsides to raise money for cancer research (the tradition may have begun in Canada as early as1965.) However it started, it was a wild success story. And daffodils have been used to raise money and promote cancer awareness ever since. Because daffodils have a chemical, esemastine, that kills breast cancer cells, they have become an international symbol of hope. (Narcissus pseudonarcissus, Amaryllidaceae family, are native to Northern Europe). 

In Sonoma County it has become a tradition that when someone dies of cancer, family and friends plant daffodils in remembrance—like the transplanted Mexican tradition of roadside memorials for car crash victims. The two traditions are beginning to merge in West Marin—shrines with la virgin de Guadalupe, trinkets and toys—even baby shoes—now include a stand of daffodils or narcissi. Most North Bay county roadsides are a riot of daffodils—a living reminder for those who have died. 

Old maps of California, depicting remnants of Tulare Lake, Kern Lake, Buena Vista Lake

Tulare Lake, once the largest lake west of the Mississippi, was destroyed by the prodigious thirst of farmers, in particular, a voracious cotton king—which led to the destruction of an entire ecosystem. 

Facebook’s California Geology Forum moderator reposted an “imagined map” from another site, Simon shows you maps. Aussie map collector Simon, who was riffing off a 2012 “Big Think” article, said, “The map imagines a satellite view of California is (sic) 1851.” Simon, who seriously needs an editor, had the poor map imagining itself as being viewed by a “satellite” which had me doubting both its sentience and its veracity, as well as wondering about Simon’s grasp on the English language. Research was required.

I was on a roll. After consulting several old California maps from the 1840s to the 1890s, I can safely say that the Google satellite flyby didn’t happen in 1851, but sometime after 1874—perhaps as late as 1890. No, seriously, folks, all that silly steampunking aside, geographer Mark Clark’s imaginary map, though very cool, seems to represent a much later version of the Tule/Tulare Lake(s) certainly later than 1851—more like something out of the 1880s or ‘90s. All of which led me on a merry snow goosechase hunting down some of the backstory of Tulare Lake, and co., by way of old maps. The maps and storyline posted below are presented more or less in chronological order. 

For starters, I learned that the depiction that Clark used to represent an imaginary 1851 Google map of Tulare Lake was far too small, as Tulare Lake(s) was something like 8 times larger than Tahoe, at 687 mi². it was shallow, with an average depth of about 40 feet, but deeper in winter. It was massive. After the demise of archaic Lake Cahuilla in the 1700s, Tulare Lake was the largest baddass lake and wetlands West of the Mississippi. It was king.

I discovered that prehistoric Tulare Lake—remnant of Pleistocene Lake Corcoran—dried up within living memory, after all its tributary rivers were diverted for agriculture in the 1920s and 1930s. The 81-mile-long lake, named for the vast sea of tule rushes (Schoenoplectus acutus) lining its marshes and sloughs, with three other lakes, Buena Vista, Kern, and Goose lakes, was part of one of the largest wetlands in North America. 

Tulare Lake also had an archipelago of sand islands, home to the densest popularion of Natives in California. The Tulare basin, at 16,400 to 20,000 square miles, depending on who’s counting, was so vast, that its fisheries fed all the major cities of California. It was a major pathway for migrating birds, and also home to the southernmost range of the Chinook salmon on the West Coast. 

There was so much seasonal snowmelt water from the Sierra Nevada Mountains that farmers built levees and canals in the 1880s and 1890s to tame it, and to farm its rich bottomlands. The lake also served as a major water road for paddlewheel ferries. No one imagined that the lake would disappear forever. 

Apparently, during the 1920s, a southern farmer, JG Boswell, in an act of extreme hubris, drained one of the largest lakes in America to build the biggest little ole cotton empire in the world. It was the coup de la mort, the final blow—even the canals and levees constructed during the 1890s did nowhere near the damage Boswell did in the name of cotton. Look away, Dixieland. California cotton was king. 

That headline is so problematic, it made my eyeteeth hurt. Hysterical juxtaposition. The map itself can’t imagine what happened, no matter how hard it tries. No matter how sentient it thinks it is. The cartographer, Clark, whom we hope is sentient, could, and did imagine it, however, Simon still needs an editor. Let's move on, shall we? But what about the maps?

I just so happened to have a motly collection of old maps on my iPad from the 1840s to the 1860s—they show significantly larger bodies of water than in Clark’s “imagined” 1851 map. Maybe it was a drought year. Note that the 1873 map is similar to the imagined map.