Editor’s note: Blair Westbrook originally wrote the following essay as part of a Del Norte Scholarship Fund application.
Every day when I drive the 16 miles home after a grueling day of music, academics, and a sports practice, I pass a weathered, time-tested tractor that sits in the shop yard at our family dairy farm.
This tractor, the oldest in the small fleet of John Deere tractors at Reservation Ranch, has seen a wide variety of uses and has had to be retooled multiple times to fit new jobs or purposes. Although not the smartest nor the most specialized, this tractor is a jack of all trades in a world of specialization and one-track-mindedness.
It was not until just recently that I realized its true vitality. This open-cabbed, unsophisticated workhorse was the one tool that had weathered the years of toil and tortuous conditions of work in an operation that had been living and residing concurrently with the land for decades.
I am that John Deere Tractor.
Growing and developing in a beautiful home, where the Smith River flows turquoise and crystal clear and redwood-covered mountains give way to rolling green pastures, my family has become more and more connected with the land.
For many families such as mine, a century of residence in our beautiful county has rooted us deeply in the land we hail from. This establishment of roots has helped generation after generation embrace a quality that applies to both the physical world and all other walks of life: stewardship.
Climates are funny things.
Living in Crescent City, I don’t really give much thought to summer. It’s just a calendar marker between when the kids get out of school (good heavens) and when they go back (thank heavens). While here in town we may have four seasons — autumn, rain, spring and fog — none of them is summer.
But summer is not hard to find. In many parts of Del Norte County, all it takes is a few minutes’ walk uphill or down, inland or seaward, to encounter a different microclimate. Consider the Point St. George headland, where Jack McNamara Field hosts Crescent City’s official weather station. That thing seems to consistently record weather 5–10 degrees cooler, winds 10–15 mph faster, and fog 15–20 percent murkier than anywhere else in Crescent City, to say nothing of the county.
(Perhaps the Chamber of Commerce should look into a way of recording more tourist-friendly measurements closer to where people live.)
During Crescent City’s so-called summer, it’s possible for it to be sunny all day at one end of a street while it’s foggy and overcast all day just a few blocks away.
Often, there seems to be a cold cloud hovering just over Crescent City while all around it the weather is bright and warm, as if to confirm my suspicion that Mother Nature has a grudge against the Tsunami City.
But Del Norte is far more than its quirky coastal basins. If the county had an official summer pastime, it would be repairing to its hot river canyons for sunning and swimming. There, summer in all its bright, hot glory is a reliable presence, proving an otherwise astounding fact about Del Norte climatology.
I moved to Del Norte County in July 1997, choosing here over Sequim, Wash., due to the beauty of the Smith River and giant redwoods and a few other reasons.
I have lived in numerous rural communities and, until Del Norte County, never read so many articles that contradict or conflict with each other like I have in the Triplicate.
I’ve seen in city government's corruption and greed, honesty and true caring for each other and their surroundings. Since I was old enough to read and comprehend articles, I’ve paid attention to what the government does, especially on the city level since it actually affects my life.
In our Triplicate, I’ve read of a real and just concern over the dwindling student population as well as concern over why our population contains so many homeless, indigent and those who live on various forms of government assistance. I’ve also read of concerns on how to boost tourism in order to bring more, much needed, money here.
Then I read articles that contradict the articles mentioned above. For example, I believe the same reasons I chose Del Norte County are the reasons tourists come here — giant redwoods, the mighty Pacific, the Smith River and much more. The best way to boost tourism could also aid in school populations. The county needs to consider eco-friendly concepts for new businesses, new county-sponsored events and infrastructure in the areas we lack.
In April 2011, I travelled to El Centro in Imperial County to meet with Attorney General Kamala Harris on a fact-finding tour of cartel drug and human trafficking at the Mexican border. As I told an assembly of law enforcement officials at that time, the biggest threat to the peace and security of my county, Del Norte, 1,009 miles away, was the importation of Mexican crystal methamphetamine, that according to DEA estimates, accounts for over 80 percent of all meth in the United States.
That poison then makes its way up the I-5 corridor, turns left at Grants Pass and arrives in Del Norte County and was involved in over 75 percent of the felonies on my desk as district attorney.
More recently, I listened to the ongoing debate on whether the United States should be militarily involved in Syria, mostly due to the possible use of chemical weapons by the Assad government. Never far from mind, the U.S. commitment to a 10-year war in Iraq based upon Saddam Hussein’s unproven use of “weapons of mass destruction.” And a presidential visit to newly elected Mexican President Pena Nieto, in which Mexico’s fast-evaporating war on drugs was relegated to a distant second behind a polite, benign chat over economic relations.
The Mexican meth that is crippling Del Norte County is not just a county issue, but a national one. Well known, President Nieto’s PRI party, longtime bedfellows with the cartels, has taken a sharp detour from his predecessor’s attempted battle to overcome the cartels’ stranglehold on the law enforcement and judiciary systems in that country. Mexico’s drug trade that feeds this country’s $65 billion consumption in illegal drugs each year.
I was back in Imperial County recently to meet with District Attorney Gilbert Otero and members of the Law Enforcement Command Center (LECC). I was informed again that 80 percent of all meth entering the United States is coming from the massive Mexican meth labs, most notably those controlled by the Sinaloa cartel and its leader Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman and that 60-80 percent of that crystal meth entered at San Diego and then makes its way up the I-5 corridor. I was further provided with statistics showing that in the almost two years since I toured the area with Attorney General Harris, there had been a 57 percent increase in seizures and for the same time period a 65 percent increase in smuggling incidents.
Would you, in your wildest dreams, connect West Point and the children’s song “Jesus Loves Me”?
I never know what I’m going to find when I pick up Robert J. Morgan’s book, “Then Sings My Soul,” to research hymns.
And would you think that a couple of female, non-military Bible teachers would be buried with military honors in the West Point Cemetery?
So many of our beautiful hymns have come about out of tragedy and adversity, and this is another one.
Sisters Anna and Susan Werner, daughters of a successful New York City lawyer in the 1830s, had their accustomed lifestyle turned upside down, forcing them to find ways to supplement the family income, thanks to the “Panic of 1837.”
They did so by writing and publishing poems and stories, and teaching Bible classes to the cadets at West Point.
One novel they wrote, “Say and Seal,” was about a very sick little boy. A point of comfort for him was a song called “Jesus Loves Me.” The novel was very successful, (second only to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”) and caught the attention of hymn-writer William Bradbury.
Bradbury set her words to the simple tune we almost all learned as children. It’s the song sung by Oklahoma schoolchildren last week when tornadoes swirled around their school.
There has been much debate lately over the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and whether legislation is needed to remove the Klamath River dams and whether the KBRA terminates tribal rights.
We are in the water wars together and should strive for unity. However a debate on whether tribal people should give up the ability to use fishing and water rights as part of the KBRA needs to be addressed openly. Never in history have water rights have been as precious.
First the facts: The KBRA is a water-sharing agreement. The KHSA (Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement) is the dam removal agreement. They are tied together, but are separate agreements. It is possible for the KHSA and dam removal to proceed without legislation under agreements with dam owners.
Historically dam removal has occurred with, and without legislation. No other dam removal legislation has been as complicated as the KBRA.
On the issue of tribal rights the KBRA Section 15.3 located on pages 77-99 speaks for itself. The Klamath, Yurok and Karuk tribes do get some tribal land restored, and restoration funding for assurances to not exercise their rights.
However, the government as a trustee for all the tribes also releases tribal rights, whether the tribe signed the agreement or not. This is a dangerous modern precedent that the government can give up rights on behalf of objecting tribes.
This is important because tribes, unlike other holders of senior water rights, cannot exercise rights without the support of the trustee, the government.
How often do you go to church?
Just Sunday morning? Or have you found that other church activities are just as satisfying?
Bible studies, game nights, movie nights, classes in cooking or crocheting are also things available for fellowship throughout the week in many of our churches. They don’t even have to be “religious” in nature.
My own church does a monthly Game Night, and it is a lot of fun. In addition, it is also a setting where you get to know your fellow members a whole lot better. As well, these programs are open and welcoming even if you do not attend a given church.
Bible studies are probably the most attended events beside Sunday morning worship services. They are often led by not only the pastor, but other church members. Our Sunday night study is led by Dale Ford, the Thursday night study by Pastor Larry Read.
Several of our churches have scheduled Bible studies, usually mid-week, Wednesday or Thursday evening.
Midweek studies/services available are:
• Bethel Christian Center, 7 p.m.
• Crescent City Church of Christ, currently studying the book of Micah, 6:30 p.m.
• First Baptist Church, 6 p.m.
• Hiouchi Community Fellowship, 7–8 p.m.
• Redwoods Family Worship Center, 6:30 p.m.
• Solid Rock (Mary Peacock School) prayer, 7 p.m.
In the last month, while we have been distracted by national events, your California Legislature and state government have been hard at work. Here is what they accomplished:
Senator Ricardo Lara, a Democrat from Bell Gardens, introduced legislation that would repeal the state tax-exempt status of any youth organization that discriminates based on gender identity, sexual orientation or religious affiliation. Known as Senate Bill 323, it is better known as the bill to strip the Boy Scouts of their tax-exempt status. It had its third reading in Committee last week. Will the governor have the guts to veto this bad bill?
The state auditor reported that the state special license plate program, which is meant to provide funds to fight threats of terrorism and provide money for state parks, was misspent. What were the 22 million misspent dollars actually used for? The auditor found that the money was spent on “unallowable or unsupported” expenditures, such as environmental programs, employee compensation and building leases.
Did anyone get fined, demoted or fired over this? Let’s get real. No one ever gets penalized for any wrongdoing at the state level.
There was some good news out of the legislature last month. Two bills by Assemblymen Mike Morrell and Tim Donnelly, Republicans, were introduced in the Assembly that would repeal the fire fee that many of us in Del Norte County were forced to pay to fight fires throughout the state. Naturally, it was later discovered that the money was spent on everything but fighting fires.
The bills passed by a 5-2 vote in the Natural Resources Committee, but they have a long way to go before we are off the hook of being robbed of an extra $150 a year to support the state.
For the past five years members of the Friends of Del Norte have been questioning the reasoning and environmental analysis behind the Caltrans highway widening project of highways 197 and 199.
We have been engaged on this issue by writing letters to the editor, to our congressmen, and the California Transportation Commission about our concerns, and by writing detailed comments to Caltrans regarding its quest to widen seven spot locations.
Caltrans states that the purpose of the project is to allow Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) trucks to enter our county along the highways, even though such unfettered oversize truck access runs contrary to shared goals of increasing traveler safety. This highly ill-conceived project has now been approved by Caltrans, which found “no significant impacts” through its Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Assessment process.
However, due to the inadequacy of the environmental review, many questions and concerns remain unanswered, forcing our organization to resort to legal action to protect all motorists and the Smith River, a nationally significant natural jewel.
We believe that our county supervisors and our Local Transportation Commissioners are doing a disservice to our community by never questioning the adverse impacts and lack of need, both economically and practically, for this project. This is especially true now since Highway 299, at Buckhorn Summit, is under construction to allow STAA trucks, thus creating an I-5 to Humboldt and Del Norte County access, and completely changing the context for justifying an STAA project in the Smith River Canyon.
On a sunny California day in 1983, a woman loading bags into her car trunk in a supermarket parking lot was suddenly confronted by a gunman who forced her into the car, tied her up and drove her away.
Minutes later, in another parking lot, he blocked another car’s attempted exit from a space and, with help from an accomplice, kidnapped one of the two women in it. He then drove both his victims to a remote canyon, where he and the accomplice and one other man repeatedly raped the women before stealing their purses and leaving them.
The gunman, Michael Vicks, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison thanks to laws that provide stiffer sentencing in cases involving guns.
Imagine, now, that you are one of those rape victims and encounter Vicks — who you believed was behind bars for good — in a random encounter in a store.
That sort of thing happened to another woman, Marcella Leach, whose daughter Marsalee (Marsy) Nicholas, was stalked and murdered by an ex-boyfriend, coincidentally also in 1983. Only a week after that killing, Leach entered a grocery store after visiting her daughter’s fresh grave and was stunned to be confronted by the accused killer, freed on bail without any notice to the victim’s family.
A desire to minimize those sorts of encounters was behind the 2008 Proposition 9, also called Marsy’s Law and the Victims’ Bill of Rights Act, sponsored primarily by Marsalee’s brother Henry, an electronics multimillionaire.
It requires that victims and their relatives be notified of every bail or parole hearing involving persons accused of harming them.