About ninety miles north of San Francisco, not far from the town of Healdsburg, the Russian River snakes through a valley dotted with oaks before disappearing into the coastal redwoods and the fog. When I was young, the winter rains lured silver salmon and steelhead trout up the river from the Pacific Ocean to the swimming hole near my family's home. They would remain there until spring, when the tree swallows returned and the rowdy laughter of canoeists echoed from the hillsides.
By the time I graduated from college, the salmon and steelhead of the Russian River had been listed as threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. The few that still return are corralled into fish hatcheries at the base of massive earthen dams, where they are measured and weighed before being stripped of their roe. The black walnuts and cottonwoods that once shaded the water are today toppled from eroded banks into a sunken river lined by riprap. The willows are strewn with discarded plastic sheeting used to sterilize new vineyards with methyl bromide before planting.
Like an old dog, the Russian River is broken but strangely resolute. Through eyes that are countless thousands of years old, does it see the dams crumbling? I am reminded of a passage written by Norman Mclean: "Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs." I have carried polished stones from river bottom and watched them drip into my palm, but my patience is short and we are all still learning to read.
I love California. I was born in this state, and it will always be my home. From the vast southern deserts and mesas through the fertile central valley to the seemingly endless northern forests and from the granite peaks of the Sierra Nevada to the calm blue waters of the Pacific, California truly is the Golden State.
But we stand by while the goose is killed before our eyes. Every year we watch lifeless corporations pollute the water we drink and foul the very air we breathe. We watch them erect generic strip malls and tract homes on the most productive farmland in the world. We see them clearcutting our national forests and drilling for oil off our coast. Despite our laws, our culture, and our natural heritage, we see that their temporary gain is our permanent loss. And with each loss, California becomes that much more like the tired lands that our ancestors left behind.
During my time at Earthjustice, I have been privileged to work with people from all walks of life who are determined to restore and protect that which is unique and beautiful about this great state. I believe that our endeavor is quintessentially Californian. As the essayist Joan Didion once wrote, "California is a place in which a boom mentality and a sense of Chekhovian loss meet in uneasy suspension; in which the mind is troubled by some buried but ineradicable suspicion that things had better work here, because here, beneath that immense bleached sky, is where we run out of continent."
Greg Loarie came to Earthjustice as an associate attorney in 2001. He grew up in rural northern California, did time in southern California as an undergraduate at U.C. San Diego, and received a law degree from U.C. Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. Greg's docket at Earthjustice focuses on endangered species and forestry issues in the Sierra Nevada; past clients include frogs, toads, snakes, fish and other esteemed residents of the Golden State.