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A Few Thoughts on the Occasion of My Leaving KCETLink

The Chocolate Mountains in Imperial County
In Joshua Tree National Park | Photo: Chris Clarke
In Joshua Tree National Park | Photo: Chris Clarke

Six years ago, I wrote about 1,000 words on one of my favorite topics — Joshua trees — and sent it off to an editor I’d never worked with before, KCET's Zach Behrens. He published it here on April 6. It was the first piece of my writing to appear on the KCET website.

As near as I can figure, the piece you’re reading right now is the 1,747th I’ve written here. It’s being published on my last day with KCETLink. I’m headed to the National Parks Conservation Association to serve as that organization’s California Desert Program Manager.

It’s a truism to say a job changed your life. All jobs do, even if they change it by keeping you from doing something else while you serve time between paychecks. But working with KCET and Link TV has truly changed my life. There truly is no other media organization like KCETLink, at least not in the United States. Over the last six-plus years, I have been given nearly absolute freedom as a journalist to pursue the stories I thought were important, without regard to whose feathers might be ruffled in the process.

Unusually for a modern media company, KCET even welcomes important stories that might not generate a lot of page views. Sometimes it’s just imperative that a story sees print (or pixels), to become part of the public record. We try to get as many people to read each story as possible, of course, but sometimes getting that story to just a few people can make big changes in the world.

That attitude doesn’t just cover KCETLink’s environmental reporting, but our coverage of arts, culture, and news as well. It’s an organization with a mission, staffed by passionate and worthy people, and it’s been a privilege to be part of it. 

If you assume my articles here average 600 words long — and I’m certain the average is much higher, given my longwindedness — that’s more than a million words of mine on this site written since April 2011. They would never have landed here if not for Zach and the rest of my brilliant, committed, and devastatingly attractive colleagues at KCETLink, past and present, far too numerous to list here but all of whom I hold dear.

And none of those words would have been worthwhile if not for those of you who read them. Thank you for that.  

Ivanpah Solar Electric Generation System from above the Castle Peaks in the Mojave National Preserve | Photo: Chris Clarke
Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System from above the Mojave National Preserve | Photo: Chris Clarke

Looking back on almost 1,750 articles written for this site is a little daunting. Some of those articles were of transient importance, but I’m proud that much of the work I did here remains relevant months and years later.

I brought to light the notion that the renewable energy industry is, when all is said and done, a branch of the energy industry, and as such it needs to be held accountable for its environmental impact.

I helped chronicle the return of gray wolves to California: a few months after I started here, OR-7 became the first gray wolf in the state in nearly a century. This week, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed that a fledgling pack I reported on here, the Lassen Pack, is well-established in the northeastern part of California. I leave KCET pursued by wolves.

A founding member of the Lassen Pack | Photo: CDFW

And and and. It’s tempting to list a whole lot of topics here, but I’ll spare you. I’ll just say that it’s gratifying that people have cited my work in journal articles and in formal comments on potentially destructive projects. Writers want to be read, but we love to be found useful.

Most importantly, I hope I’ve given readers here a sense of what there is of value in California’s least-well-understood, least-appreciated landscape: the deserts. I’ve been told that my writing here has opened the eyes of more than one person to the beauty to be found out here. Few things make me as fulfilled as a writer. Now and then, in comments on KCET’s Facebook page, a reader will point out that an essay of mine isn’t objective. I plead no contest. I try to get the details right and to explore the weaknesses in arguments I’m tempted to agree with, but I have never pretended to be a dispassionate observer when it comes to the fate of a landscape I love. Or the plants and animals that live there.  

Four years ago I wrote an observation on the suicide of Reddit founder Aaron Swartz that included this passage:

A few years ago, confronted with a mounting series of threats to the Mojave Desert landscape and feeling like any effort I put in was more or less wasted, I took a walk in the desert. I came upon a picturesque clump of Mojave yucca, one of my favorite desert plants, and I sat there with it for a while looking at the horizon dozens of miles away...

A ring of Mojave yucca | Photo: Chris Clarke
A different ring of Mojave yucca | Photo: Chris Clarke

How much better it would be if I was a yucca like this one, I thought. Growing in this spot for 700, perhaps 900 years already, no need for provisions or gasoline, drinking water a couple times a year, and spending the rest of the time being part of the landscape in a way I never could?

I spent a moment in rank, absurd envy of that yucca, cursing my luck for having been born a human being rather than a succulent plant, wishing I could will myself to change form and sink weathered roots into the gravel on that remote alluvial fan.

And then the realization sank in. That yucca, for all its age, wizened trunk, and fearsome leaf spines, was vulnerable in a way I was not. It could endure against time and heat and drought, but not against the threats I knew it was facing. It had evolved ways to conserve water, to guard against sun and wind, but it had not evolved a defense against bulldozers.

Or had it? It couldn't leave this place and speak in its defense. But I could.  

I still can. And now I’ll be doing so full-time. I could use your help. You can find me here. And thanks for everything.

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