The San Joaquin Valley is a region too immense to be viewed from a single vantage point. It loses itself to a flat expanse both north and south, and gives way only slowly to the mounting foothills of the Sierra to the east and the barren Coast Range to the west . . . so vast and empty as to force one's eyes down in search of something close and recognizable. To tell of its geography, crops and climate, its length and breadth in miles - all this somehow fails to convey the fact of it, the effect of the eye and imagination.
The San Joaquin has never been a picturesque country and it offers no invitation to the casual tourist. The traveler's foot invariably forces the throttle toward the floorboard and a sense of relief comes with the first glimpse of mountains to mark the end of it. The Valley's beauty cannot be seen from a racing automobile or the cold interior of an air-conditioned building. It moves in a slow rhythm, almost imperceptibly in the shift of seasons, a beauty held in the stillness of a long-sinking sun across an ocean of cotton or the drifting of tule fog through a winter vineyard. The Valley communicates a sorrow and an exaltation only to those who give themselves over to its harsh embrace. participate in its slow moving, to those who have spent long hours laboring in its fields or in the sweltering heat of its packing sheds and gins. Men and women who have lain awake without sheet or blanket through its summer nights can understand the simple gift of a breeze across the cooling acres and the murmuring push of water through the deep canals.
The history of the San Joaquin is a short one. With few exceptions it is unsensational. To be raised in its schools is to hear something about the Yokut Indians and Spanish explorers, and to wait anxiously for recess. Children are not likely to make a schoolyard game of working a Stockton gang plow. Or of toiling in the asphaltum pits on the West Side. The theme is one of struggle and hard work, and eras have passed so quickly that they have left neither heroes nor legends. Memory is short where the struggle goes on and the work is still hard. In the end, the Valley itself remains the sole survivor and greatest character in a drama where no man's vision of it has lasted very long
The cattle barons and massive wheat ranches. The railroad and colonization. The Valley is the final depository for the great westward movement that roiled back upon itself, leaving no one with another chance or a next frontier. In wave upon wave it has received people from all over the world: Oriental, Greek, Mexican and Basque, Armenian, Italian, Anglo, Black and Portuguese. In the tumult and rush the Valley extended a mongrel heritage to all comers, to anyone willing to spend himself through the seasons of dust and heat with the hope of winning some permanent and undeniable right to call the land his. This union continues even now, rawboned and unsentimental, leaving disenfranchised in the wake of change all those whose grip has loosened, whose strength is spent. This is the bittersweet inheritance of the San Joaquin.
The enthusiasm and hope that built small towns at every crossroad and railway junction have been drawn off like the waters of the rivers that once rushed unrestrained from the Sierra and spilled across the Valley floor. The San Joaquin is still strewn with these neglected relics of a time when people and goods moved more slowly and one place seemed as likely to prosper as another, towns where the congestion and excitement of a payday-weekend night seem almost inconceivable in the quiet decay of crumbling sidewalks and abandoned store fronts. There is an irony in BUSINESS 99 NEXT RIGHT where, on the handful of rutted streets, the most valued possessions are the cars and pickups that make it possible to reach jobs and shopping centers miles away. However, it is in these unlikely locations - and in the endless sections of cropland that isolate them - that the song the Valley sings can still be heard. It finds voice in the rustling whisper of seed corn on a windy night, in the lonely jutting of an empty silo from a flooded field.
And for a while yet, it can be found in the dreams and remembrances of those who neither question the rightness of being there, nor hesitate to call it home.
Editors Note: The Faith of Christ is seen as a spiritual theme throughout the story of the San Joaquin Valley.