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Willey family just returned from our annual pilgrimage to Yosemite’s water temple, where the big rumpus is over two blokes’ midwinter free-climbing of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall, never before scaled by mere hands and feet. Dry and warm weather favors this youthful pair’s attempt to conquer “the world’s most arduous free-climb”. It favors no one else. I sadly characterize our Yosemite watershed’s snow cover as little more than a dusting after we encountered just six inches of the white stuff at an elevation where six feet is not uncommon for early January. Spring melt from what’s up there now, halfway through this rainy season, will not fill many reservoirs. Retired UCSB anthropologist Brian Fagan’s Before California cites evidence that one extended drought cycle threatened food supplies and the social stability of California’s long-established native communities around 1000 A.D. Food shortages initially provoked violence and intensified competition between communities that had coexisted peaceably during times of plenty. However, by 1100 A.D., though drought persisted, conflict diminished, replaced by exponential increases in local and middle-distance trade amongst Central Valley and Pacific Coast societies that appear to have embraced interdependence as key to survival. Brown University ecologist Mark Bertness is noted for his controversial 1994 Stress Gradient Hypothesis, a rather Pollyannaish notion that member species in ecosystems experiencing drought, or other stresses, become more supportive of each other and less competitive. Bertness and colleagues muted two decades of hot debate with their 2013 Ecology Letters meta-analysis examining data from two hundred published studies of stressed plant communities on six continents. Trends across these many experiments demonstrate that when survival chips are down, cooperation trumps predation and competition. Facing a fourth year, and possibly many more, of mere trickles flowing from Sierra Nevada streams, where are we moderns lining up on a cooperation vs. competition continuum? Our majestic Sierra has demonstrated its ability to weather such challenges as did California’s indigenous communities over 13 millennia. After more than 150 years, a persistent Gold Rush culture yet encourages grab and run ethics, exemplified by thousands of almond acres planted across previously unplowed Valley and foothill expanses during severe drought. Conversely, last year’s legislative session demonstrated some resolve to one day manage California’s groundwater basins as balanced community assets, opposed to one-off mining operations. Contemporary Californians will ultimately choose whether we and our spectacular agricultural achievements are here to stay or are just passing through. –Tom Willey