How California Musicians Are Responding to Climate Change

Thor Steingraber was hiking in the Mojave Desert in August 2020 when a fire erupted in the sparse landscape. The blaze eventually forced its way through a Joshua tree woodland and killed more than one million of the iconic trees.

“You don’t expect to see the desert catch on fire,” said Steingraber, who lives in the Los Angeles area. “It was one of the most memorable moments of my life because it was so utterly unexpected.”

Four months later, The New York Times published an article documenting the destruction of California’s beloved trees, including the Joshua trees, ancient redwoods and giant sequoias. The ravages of global warming and dangerous megafires, my colleague John Branch wrote, mean that “these trees are in the fight of their lives.”

“It’ll never come back like it was,” one botanist, standing among thousands of destroyed Joshua trees, told John. “Not with climate change.”

Steingraber was inspired. He works as the executive and artistic director of The Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts at California State University, Northridge, and he decided to commission music that would alert people to the harms these trees face.

“The nonstop drumbeat of bad news can feel disempowering and can really lead to a sense of despair,” Steingraber told me. “People read the news, generally, at home alone, but when you come to a performance, you’re with people, and I think our ability to inspire behavior change is unique.”

Steingraber enlisted three composers — Gabriella Smith, Steven Mackey and Billy Childs — as well as the violinist Etienne Gara to create a three-part concert, with each chapter dedicated to one of the tree species. (John told me he was “floored” by Thor’s reaction to his article: “This is one I could’ve never predicted, had I ever tried.”)

The threats to these trees are dire. Scientists worry that future visitors to Joshua Tree National Park will find no Joshua trees, the way that some fear that Glacier National Park will eventually be devoid of year-round ice. Until a few years ago, about the only thing that killed an old-growth giant sequoia was old age, but not anymore. And the misty coast of Northern California, where redwoods thrive, was long thought to be relatively immune to destructive fires, but that illusion has been shattered, too.

“These trees can’t fight for their own survival,” Steingraber said. “I view these musical pieces as something of the voice of the trees. You can’t think about California without thinking of those trees.”

The Soraya’s project, called “Treelogy,” will officially premiere in February next year. But you can hear extended excerpts at a New York Times climate event next week that’s taking place in San Francisco and will be livestreamed for viewers everywhere.

Tell us:

  • What, if any, works of art have changed the way you think about climate change? It could be a book, a film, a piece of music or a poem. Email us at with your name and where you live, and your response may be shared at the live event.

Today’s tip comes from Mickey McGovern, who recommends a trip to the redwoods:

“I love wandering along the pathways through the redwoods in Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve north of Guerneville. It’s still beautiful there even though a fire destroyed the camp grounds and some of the redwoods last year. They have an information center as well as plaques that tell you some interesting facts about redwoods. After spending a few hours in the park we usually head to Korbel Winery for a delicious lunch on the patio. A great way to spend the day!”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

The California general election is scheduled for Nov. 8. What do you want to know about the contests or the voting process?

Email us at with your questions.

In April, Jose Ceja put a $700 pumpkin seed in the dirt and hoped for the best.

On Saturday, Ceja’s enormous gourd tipped the scales at 1,886 pounds, earning him a $7,000 payday and bragging rights at the annual Elk Grove Giant Pumpkin Festival, The Sacramento Bee reports.

Ceja, a Napa-area man who owns a septic tank company, started growing radishes many years ago. Then about two decades ago, his father-in-law gave him a seed for a giant pumpkin. His first pumpkin weighed 599 pounds.

The most important ingredient?

“A lot of luck,” he said.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Briana Scalia and Jaevon Williams contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at

Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

Source link

Categories USA