Tule derives from the Aztec tullin or tollin, meaning any of several wetland plants, specifically bulrushes. The tules are marshy, swampy wilderness regions in California where these grasslike perennial herbs, cattails, bulrushes, and sedges are prevalent and may reach heights of fifteen to twenty feet. Tule has given its name to the small California elk, the tule elk, once nearly extinct, and to a population of the California marsh wren, the tule wren. Because of the thick, harsh wildness of the tule areas, “to be deep in the tules” means to be in trouble. “To pull freight for the tules” means to run from the law. In An Apostle of the Tules, Bret Harte describes the tules in Tassajara Valley, California, this way: “A more barren, dreary, monotonous and uninviting landscape never stretched before human eye . . . the breath of the ague-haunted tules in the outlying Stockton marshes swept through the valley.” Tulare Lake in California’s Central Valley, named for its expanses of tules and once one of the largest freshwater lakes in the West, is today a dry lake, virtually all the water in its major feeder streams—the Kings, Kaweah, and Tule Rivers—having been diverted for irrigation.

Pattiann Rogers