On a winter morning in 2007, I kept my eye out for Smilodons, Dire Wolves and Short Faced Bears. I’d been living in the Sacramento Valley for two years. It was where my husband was settled in as a professor at the university, where we’d bought a home, where my children were in school. I was on Highway 80 through a place that during the Ice Age so brimmed with flora and fauna, (including oversized predators) that experts in the history of the land call the ancient valley the Serengeti of North America.
The Serengeti of North America boasted marshlands, teeming birds, Elk, vicious predators and high grasses that hid them while they hunted. People lived here too. They made a great living off the land even with having to contend with outsized predators on the loose. The Sacramento Valley must have been gorgeous. It must have been terrifying.
Can the land beneath the mini malls, farmlands, housing developments and donut shops remember her wild days? My husband is one of those experts in the history of the land and he swears the rumors of the Sacramento Valley’s old glories are true. During the morning commute it was impossible to believe.
The traffic crawled past Cal Expo. In the slowdown a trio of magpies alit in the bunch grasses pushing from the cracks in the asphalt near the center divide. One caught me looking and flicked her tail.
F- you, lady, she said. You don’t know wild when it’s right in front of you.
I made up the poem Winter Valley during the rest of that morning’s commute.
Nobody seemed to get what I was laying down with that one. I submitted it to magazines once in a while. I read it to my students sometimes much to their chagrin. Nobody liked it but me.
Last summer I found Heyday Books’ Sacramento Valley Writing Contest. My poem seemed a fit so I submitted for fun. Heyday Books is amazing. Might as well answer the call.
When I got the email congratulating me on winning and asking where to send the sizable prize money, I was cool for about ten minutes. I sent an email with a professional thanks as well as my address. Then it sunk in that my winning had to be a scam. My students watched in horror while I left a very uncool voicemail message with the Heyday office verifying that this wasn’t some kind of a joke.
Mrs. Wanket, stop being crazy, they begged. They liked your poem, so what? Just be cool.
I finally met Malcolm Margolin, the founder of Heyday Books, at a recent release event for Dugan Aguilar’s excellent photograph collection She Sang Me a Good Luck Song. Malcolm’s opening remarks were as inspiring and beautiful as the work he was celebrating. I introduced myself to Malcolm, confessing that I’d made a fool of myself when I learned I’d won the poetry category. He thought that was funny. He made me feel like we were already old friends.
This land that my family has settled has a rich past aside from her current incarnation of manicured farms and intersecting neighborhoods. The City of Trees used to be the Land of Teeth, and Maidu people lived here in grace long before my kind knew the continent existed. The newness of my claim is important to remember.
I can’t wait until the Sacramento Valley book comes out. What a joy to be any small part of Heyday Books’ beautiful story. Their beautiful yes to my vision of my home is an honor.
Malcolm Margolin talking about the Sacramento Valley: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSqQAE_i8MM