After our last show at the public library in Tracy, CA we ended our tour by packing all our gear, bikes, and selves into Lydia's VW Jetta for a ride back to the SF Bay area. Chelsea is off to another clinical rotation, Lydia will gypsy around for a few more weeks, doing freelance writing in coffeeshops, and Mike and I have a week to visit my father and fill in for a vacationing caregiver before we start the next leg of our journey.
We all felt the tour was a great success in reaching out to people who have heretofore not been part of the climate movement. The press coverage reached thousands of people with our message about the health benefits of climate action. And we are already thinking about a return trip to collaborate with new friends and contacts.
On the way to Chowchilla we stopped at the Madera Fossil Discovery Center aka the county landfill where heavy equipment operators have dug up over 13,000 fossils since the 1990s, big ones like mammoths, sabertooth cats, camels (which are native to N America, who knew?), and something about 10 feet tall called a short faced bear. About 600,000 years ago, this area was predominantly grassland with a lake that attracted a large number of animals. Hence the abundant fossils. Excavation only occurs at the site every 3 years or so when the county needs to dig a new hole to deposit its garbage. I mentioned that it seemed a little unusual for a major archeological site to be excavated with heavy equipment and was told that there are no funds for academic types and this way the digging is free. I guess when you have so many fossils laying about, it doesn't matter if you smash a few to smithereens.
Everyone we meet in the valley tells us that everyone else is a climate skeptic but I suspect that there are more supporters of climate action than meet the eye. One poll last year showed that 84% of Central Valley residents support reducing greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030, which is the same goal the dogs have in our puppet show. At any rate, the folks at the Fossil Center had a good exhibit talking about human caused climate change and the need to adapt water use and storage to the new long term drought conditions.
We arrived in Chowchilla to find that the librarian had forgotten we were coming and hadn't done any publicity for the show. So we decided to eat ice cream instead.
We are in Merced. This town is visibly having a hard time. Many empty storefronts downtown. A policeman stopped me as I was locking my bike to a traffic sign with a U lock to tell me that it would get stripped or stolen if left outdoors. We did lock our bikes at the library to do our show and they were unmolested. Our hosts last night in Chowchilla told us jobs and housing are scarce for low income people. We pass many almond orchards, some with new baby trees. Almonds, unlike fruits, require little human labor because the pruning and harvesting are mechanized.
I was told by someone in Fresno that sometimes all Merced ambulances are occupied responding to asthma attacks and unable to respond to other emergencies. Weather today is not as hot as it has been, and ozone levels are correspondingly lower, but temperatures will rise to 109 on the weekend.
Our audience of kids and parents at the library downtown were very enthusiastic, except for one infant who burst into tears during an episode of exuberant group howling. In our story, two dogs get instructions from a wolf at each full moon about what to teach humans to cut climate pollution. We have the kids howl along and cheer the dogs to give them confidence as they deliver their lessons. The show was followed by a regular library program where kids read to dogs. The dog's owner, who has been bringing her dog to be read to for several years, says she is amazed at how fast the children's reading improves when they have a nonjudgemental canine listener.
We've been working at learning how to do the show with one less puppeteer so our med student, Chelsea, can get to Sacramento tomorrow to attend an Air Quality Board Meeting. This afternoon we did about 3/4 of the show with 3 people. We have another show tonight in which to practice with Chelsea standing by to jump in if we stumble. Tomorrow we 3 will be on our own.
We chose to brave the heat and bring our puppet show on climate solutions to California's San Joaquin Valley because this region has the worst air quality in the country. We are biking early in the day to avoid the worst of the heat and air pollution, which both peak in late afternoon. The photo above was taken yesterday in Selma at about 5 pm. The air quality flag on the left flagpole is part of a system used by area schools to determine if it is safe for kids to have PE outdoors. Because several folks in our group have asthma and my husband Mike has congestive heart failure, we've been following the system's hourly real time air quality reports to make sure it is safe for us to ride.
Our second show was at a youth center associated with migrant farmworker housing in Shafter, a small town just northwest of Bakersfield. The kids were much more reserved than the young people I am used to up in Humboldt. The kids who came up from Bakersfield for the show were a little bolder than the ones from Shafter. From their comments afterward, it seemed they were most impressed with the segment on Sitting Disease and the importance of physical activity.
The center's coordinator Chris Carrera is very dedicated to improving the lives and expanding the horizons of "her kids". I hope to return in the fall to do some puppet making workshops with them. It may have been the beer we drank after the show (1 each, after the kids were gone) that made it take an hour to fit everything back into the car.
Our camp that night was at Colonel Allensworth State Park. a former post Civil War all black utopian community. Many of the buildings have been restored. One of the rangers there happens to be a fellow amateur puppeteer who does interpretive shows with a custom made Colonel Allensworth puppet. We could not induce him to bring it out for us. He also does ghost tours. Maybe next time.
Dr. Wendy Ring is a family physician who set aside her clinical practice to educate and agitate for climate action..