Just like in the Statler Brothers’ song, the Orland High School Class of ‘66 had its dreams. In June of 1966, all 138 of us spread to the wind and set out to live our dreams, much like the Orland High School classes before us. Some went on to college, some served in the military, some pursued occupations elsewhere, and some remained in this wonderful little Northern California farm town for the rest of their lives.
On most winter evenings, Kathy and I hike to the hilltop near our home in the oak woodlands of Northern California. We usually leave about 4:00, and if we don’t stop to talk to anyone or get sidetracked, return to the house before the sun goes down. One quiet evening late last December, we heard the whistling of wingbeats overhead as we walked up the driveway at the end of our one-mile trek.
The first time I experienced the awesome grandeur of California’s Eastern Sierra was in 1975, when, as a rookie Fish and Game warden, I drove there on assignment to work the Crowley Lake trout-season opener. That spring, the majestic mountains to the west were covered with snow, and the entire scene, from Mount Whitney to Mammoth Lakes, looked like something you’d see on a Christmas card. Over the years I’ve visited again and again, sometimes in the spring, sometimes in the summer, and sometimes in the fall. Whatever the season, the Eastern Sierra always offers an eye-popping display of color and natural beauty.
With camera in hand, Kathy and I have spent much of the last thirty years enjoying nature and searching for wildlife wherever we could find it. We’ve meandered through mountains, marshes, and meadows in seven states; we’ve trekked across deserts in California, Arizona, and Nevada; we’ve kayaked with great whales in Monterey Bay; and we’ve dived to the depths of the ocean in California, Hawaii, Key Largo, and the Caribbean. One place we’ve never gone in search of wildlife is Africa.
Late in November 1959, I was an eleven-year-old boy riding in the back seat of our family car as my father drove us north of Sacramento for the first time. I remember looking out the window and marveling at flocks of flying waterfowl and a vast landscape of wetlands, rice fields, grain fields, and open space—all the way to what was to be our new home in the tiny farming community of Orland. Today, as I drive north from Sacramento, I see miles and miles of orchards where not so much as a blade of grass is allowed to grow.
During the thirty-plus years Kathy and I have lived in the foothills east of Redding, we’ve been treated to occasional visits from black-tailed deer. They generally don’t stay long—a day or two—then they move on. Sometimes they’ll pay us a visit at night while we’re sleeping. The next morning, a trail of partially eaten plants tells the tale.