New book explores relationship between Salton Sea and people throughout history – Redlands Daily Facts

The Salton Sea: The very name conjures up images of a once-dazzling Inland Riviera and the Rat Pack’s seaside playground deep in the farthest deserts of eastern Riverside and Imperial Counties. It also conjures up, for some, images of a curious modern wasteland, filled with the ruins of old trailers spray-painted with graffiti, abandoned ski boats and a rapidly receding shore.

Ruth Nolan grew up in the Mojave Desert and now teaches creative writing at College of the Desert. (Courtesy of Pablo Aguilar)

It’s also an environmental paradise for seasonally migrating birds, and it’s fine playa dust, the source of California’s highest rates of respiratory disease for those who live nearby when the wind blows, which he often does here. Then there’s the smell: algae blooms and fish kills are not uncommon and emit a rotten egg smell that can drift for hundreds of miles. Soon, according to recent federal and state statements, it will be the site of one of the largest and most aggressive lithium mining operations in the world. we

Here is the Salton Sea, perfectly framed with these images of the empire’s rise, rise and steep fall – and how this relatively recent series of rapid-fire events involving this quirky inland sea, which does not dates back only to the mid-nineteenth century, serves as an acute metaphor for the consequences of colonialism, in a stunning and important new book. “The Settler Sea: California’s Salton Sea and the Consequences of Colonialism”, written by Traci Brynne Voyles – Associate Professor and Chair of Women’s and Gender Studies and Director of the Center for Social Justice at the University of Oklahoma – asks a very unique question, which it explores in depth: Can a sea be colonizing?

“The Settler Sea” is a book that paints a vivid, layered canvas evoking the complex relationships in the ecological-human interfaces of this paradoxically desert wetland region. Its pages travel far beyond the arrival of colonial influences and deep into the much deeper, centuries-old histories of the region’s Cahuilla and the close relational histories of other indigenous peoples of life in their traditional homelands in today’s Salton Sea region – formed in 1905 by a complex of Colorado River floods and colonizers’ water irrigation efforts gone awry as well as with an ancient Lake Cahuilla much larger large, which has appeared and receded several times over thousands of years, influenced by weather changes, rain and floods, and by periods of prolonged drought.

The modern version of the Salton Sea, serving to establish the 20th-21st century sea itself as a “settler”, depicts the strong influences of colonialism not only on the ecological fate of this bizarre sea, but on the modification life of people whose ancestors had established a tightly rhythmic network of relationships with the sea as a deeply shaped supporting framework for their own survival.

The structure of the book serves as a map of how these influences have played out: beginning with her introduction, “A World on the Brink”, Brynne Voyles quickly lays out the current state of the catastrophe in which the sea of Salton. This is an environmental and social problem. justice litany of wrongdoings and emergencies, seemingly overlooked and neglected by the state of California, which for more than 20 years has promised to “clean up,” but has failed to do so.

Part 1, “Desert” and “Flood”, beautifully tells the stories of ancient Lake Cahuilla and a now largely altered way of life for Cahuilla and other desert dwellers. Part 2, ‘Birds, ‘Concrete’, ‘Body’, ‘Bombs’, ‘Chains’ and ‘Toxins’, lays out the rapid succession of how the embodied spaces of the Salton Sea were transformed, in a bit over 100 years, from a place of great environmental beauty and closely lived sustainability to becoming the victim of a series of hugely damaging large-scale settlement activities.

“The Settler Sea: California’s Salton Sea and the Consequences of Colonialism” is a crucially important book. It sheds light on the deep indigenous stories and relationships formed in the depths of California’s southernmost deserts over millennia in a compelling orchestration between water, heat and desert, and is a microscopic view of the impacts devastating effects of colonization and colonialism on this particular place on the planet.

For those of us who live in the Inland Empire/wilderness region of Riverside County, it’s the black footprint indelibly etched on some of the places we call home, intertwined with stories of a great beauty, resilience and hope. And this hope is well embodied in the last chapter of this book: “Conclusion: a practical guide to saving the Salton Sea”.

Ruth Nolan is the editor of “No Place for a Puritan: the Literature of California’s Deserts”. She teaches creative writing at the College of the Desert and writes about Californian deserts.

Angela C. Hale