Thor Steingraber was hiking in the Mojave Desert in August 2020 when a fire erupted in the sparse landscape. The blaze eventually forced its way through a Joshua tree woodland and killed more than one million of the iconic trees.
“You don’t expect to see the desert catch on fire,” said Steingraber, who lives in the Los Angeles area. “It was one of the most memorable moments of my life because it was so utterly unexpected.”
Four months later, The New York Times published an article documenting the destruction of California’s beloved trees, including the Joshua trees, ancient redwoods and giant sequoias. The ravages of global warming and dangerous megafires, my colleague John Branch wrote, mean that “these trees are in the fight of their lives.”
“It’ll never come back like it was,” one botanist, standing among thousands of destroyed Joshua trees, told John. “Not with climate change.”
Steingraber was inspired. He works as the executive and artistic director of The Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts at California State University, Northridge, and he decided to commission music that would alert people to the harms these trees face.
“The nonstop drumbeat of bad news can feel disempowering and can really lead to a sense of despair,” Steingraber told me. “People read the news, generally, at home alone, but when you come to a performance, you’re with people, and I think our ability to inspire behavior change is unique.”
Steingraber enlisted three composers — Gabriella Smith, Steven Mackey and Billy Childs — as well as the violinist Etienne Gara to create a three-part concert, with each chapter dedicated to one of the tree species. (John told me he was “floored” by Thor’s reaction to his article: “This is one I could’ve never predicted, had I ever tried.”)
The threats to these trees are dire. Scientists worry that future visitors to Joshua Tree National Park will find no Joshua trees, the way that some fear that Glacier National Park will eventually be devoid of year-round ice. Until a few years ago, about the only thing that killed an old-growth giant sequoia was old age, but not anymore. And the misty coast of Northern California, where redwoods thrive, was long thought to be relatively immune to destructive fires, but that illusion has been shattered, too.
“These trees can’t fight for their own survival,” Steingraber said. “I view these musical pieces as something of the voice of the trees. You can’t think about California without thinking of those trees.”
The Soraya’s project, called “Treelogy,” will officially premiere in February next year. But you can hear extended excerpts at a New York Times climate event next week that’s taking place in San Francisco and will be livestreamed for viewers everywhere.
What, if any, works of art have changed the way you think about climate change? It could be a book, a film, a piece of music or a poem. Email us at [email protected] with your name and where you live, and your response may be shared at the live event.
The rest of the news
Drought: As the state goes through a prolonged drought, more than 1,200 wells have run dry this year, The Associated Press reports.
Serial killer: Ballistics tests have linked the fatal shootings of six men and the wounding of one woman in California — all potentially at the hands of a serial killer.
State of emergency: California and Orange County officials have declared a state of emergency and approved $6 million to stabilize the sliding railroad tracks at San Clemente, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
Nobel Prize: A Bay Area scientist is one of three who jointly won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics for proving that tiny particles could retain a connection with each other even when separated, The Associated Press reports.
Abuse: A new court filing by Angelina Jolie against her ex-husband Brad Pitt disclosed new details about what she described as abusive behavior by him on a private plane in 2016 that led to the dissolution of their marriage.
Gas prices: The average price of a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline in Los Angeles County rose to a record for the second consecutive day, City News Service reports.
Terms: The sheriffs and district attorneys of Orange and Riverside Counties can serve an extra two years in office, now that a bill shifting their elections to presidential years has been signed into law, The Orange County Register reports.
Police practices: The San Diego City Council approved an ordinance that would shape the makeup of the city’s Commission on Police Practices, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
South Merced kidnapping: The Merced County Sheriff’s Office said it was investigating the kidnapping of an 8-month-old baby, her father, her mother and an uncle, who were taken from a business against their will on Monday.
Hastings name change: A group of alumni from the University of California Hastings College of the Law and descendants of Serranus Hastings, whom the school is named after, sued school officials Tuesday to stop them from dropping the Hastings name, Reuters reports.
What we’re eating
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Mickey McGovern, who recommends a trip to the redwoods:
“I love wandering along the pathways through the redwoods in Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve north of Guerneville. It’s still beautiful there even though a fire destroyed the camp grounds and some of the redwoods last year. They have an information center as well as plaques that tell you some interesting facts about redwoods. After spending a few hours in the park we usually head to Korbel Winery for a delicious lunch on the patio. A great way to spend the day!”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
The California general election is scheduled for Nov. 8. What do you want to know about the contests or the voting process?
Email us at [email protected] with your questions.
And before you go, some good news
In April, Jose Ceja put a $700 pumpkin seed in the dirt and hoped for the best.
On Saturday, Ceja’s enormous gourd tipped the scales at 1,886 pounds, earning him a $7,000 payday and bragging rights at the annual Elk Grove Giant Pumpkin Festival, The Sacramento Bee reports.
Ceja, a Napa-area man who owns a septic tank company, started growing radishes many years ago. Then about two decades ago, his father-in-law gave him a seed for a giant pumpkin. His first pumpkin weighed 599 pounds.
The most important ingredient?
“A lot of luck,” he said.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.
Briana Scalia and Jaevon Williams contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].
The post How California Musicians Are Responding to Climate Change appeared first on New York Times.