Day 19 (Part 2): In The Last Rays of Sunlight
1.4 miles (walking)
↑ 78 feet ↓ 78 feet
I first saw Bernadette dancing in the parking lot of the Thai restaurant. The doors to her blue pickup were open, salsa music blasting from across the empty pavement. She and her partner laughed as they missed a spin.
I met her a few minutes later on the patio of the restaurant. They sat under the shade of a pine tree, picking at Thai noodles with a plastic fork.
“I saw you two dancing in the parking lot,” I said. “You looked great together! Are you dancers?”
“I’m not good at partner dancing,” she said with a laugh. She looked at her partner. “But yes, I dance.”
Her partner gave a slight smile. His thick black beard contrasted against his white tank top in the fading sunlight.
I never thought of climate change as a story of great personal loss.
Intellectually, I understood it was harmful, a disastrous unraveling that affects people and livelihoods. But Bernadette helped me realize that global warming, rising sea levels, hurricanes, fires--they affect our sense of identity as well.
Bernadette doesn’t just dance salsa, she specializes in a style that blends traditional elements of her people, the Pomo Native Americans, with modern movements. She uses these to teach the story of Chishkale, the acorn tree.
“The acorn is a big part of who we are,” she shared. Acorns are a traditional and ceremonial Pomo food. The acorns are shelled, cleaned, dried, and then ground to make breads, soups, and puddings.
But sudden oak death (an airborne pathogen) has challenged this age-old act of subsistence and spirituality. It has killed countless tanoaks--the source of acorns--and rising temperatures are expected to increase the spread of sudden oak death.
And it’s not just the acorns.
“Redwoods and tanoak trees grow together,” Bernadette shared. “They’re sister trees.”
The death of tanoaks is disrupting the balance of Northern California and Oregon forests, eliminating a food and habitat source for animals, and increasing combustible materials.
Through dance and workshops, Bernadette is drawing attention to this story, while teaching her heritage to the next generation of Pomo people.
“They think that these methods and these traditions are just traditions and history, but they’re not. They’re life skills,” Bernadette shares in the short film Chishkale: The Blessing of the Acorn.
For the Pomo, land is their source of life. It is a source of physical strength, a source of spiritual connection.
But climate change is putting that identity at risk. Climate change takes away. It erodes, acidifies. It burns.
We finished our food. Our chili sauce-streaked paper plates lay silently in front of us.
The last rays of sunlight pierced through the branches of the pine tree, lighting Bernadette’s face.
Cory asked if we could take a photo of them. They agreed, and I pulled out my camera from my side bag.
I kneeled down, tilted my camera, clicked. Two people in the embrace of a pine tree, the fading orange light illuminating their strength.