Letter From The Desert #1: King Clone

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For close to 12,000 years it's been enduring here in Johnson Valley, a creosote plant that sprouted from a seed in a time when mastodons still drank from the Mojave River, which still flowed above-ground. That seedling grew into a shrub, its trunk growing side shoots from its base. Those side shoots grew side shoots, which then grew side shoots. Over the course of centuries the clump widened, developed a hole in the center, kept widening. Now it's about 45 feet across, the largest -- and thus oldest -- cresosote clonal ring known to science.

My dog Heart and I visited King Clone this week with our hiking buddy Monica. I was after some perspective. 11,700 years is a long time to stay in the same job. Over the last few weeks I've been thinking about my time at KCET: I've been writing there for four years now, almost exclusively so for the last three years, and changes are looming. I don't know yet what those changes will look like, just that they're coming.

So off we went in search of an audience with the King. We had imprecise directions committed to memory, but it only took us about ten minutes or so of wandering to find the giant, oblong clonal ring. Heart got there first.

heart in King Clone

We stayed for half an hour. I laid on my back in the center of the ring, seeking insights. I got some. I'm not ready to tell you what they were. More will come soon. But I will say it was nice to feel young and insignificant again. And I will also say that I will need more than one gig to get me through the 11,645 years I'll need to reach King Clone's present age, so I'm going to be diversifying my creative efforts. Details follow.

Desert Oracle

Speaking of Heart finding creosote clonal rings, I have a piece on that very topic -- though with much younger creosotes involved -- in the upcoming Desert Oracle, which editor Ken Layne tells me is off at the printer either now or soon. Desert Oracle is print-only, so don't count on my piece ever showing up online, but you can order your copy here. Or subscribe: it's ridiculously inexpensive.


I've been threatening to produce some audio for the last few years, and have found myself making a couple false starts since 2006 or so. I resolved last week to stop thinking about it and do it. The first two podcasts resulting from this resolution are here, the first on summer heat in the desert, and the second on storms. Don't expect frills, production values, careful scripting, or really anything other than me talking about stuff and then clipping out a few misfires or long pauses. I'll be trying to keep them to three minutes or under.


Over the last several weeks my efforts at KCET have been almost wholly given over to a special project on California's Bay and Delta. I've written what seems to me to be a very large number of words on that wonderful and threatened ecosystem, on topics ranging from chinook salmon and steelhead to sturgeons and other fish and invasive species and sea level rise, mammals and birds and beetles, but if I was going to recommend just two of all my pieces in the series, they'd be this one on hiking to the Sacramento River's headwaters and this other one on seeing a tricolored blackbird in the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area.


I've been slacking off at Beacon a little bit: the Bay Delta series has been eating up all my time. That's going to change shortly. But in the meantime, this piece from May 27 on rewilding California's Central Valley attracted some attention when it went up. If you missed it then, no need to miss it now.


Despite the mild overwhelm, I've written a couple things on my blog Coyote Crossing in recent weeks. I also make random observations and photos on social media: my writer's Facebook Page, for instance, or my Twitter feed, and then of course there's Instagram, which I have made uncool by the simple act of joining.

Enough about me. Have another photo of Heart.