[With Seeds of Thought from the last four years on the EcoZone page above, most recent on top, here are four more heading in the other direction, from Sept. 2013, each with more material following. Click Seeds Archive for those prior to these.]
One good turn can inspire another, multiplying contributions in surprising ways. Now it seems the new Rio Mora NWR, just created last fall, is already transcending its original geography, adding the former Biophilia Foundation (Richard Pritzlaff) property along the upper Sapello, a place long associated with conservation education. For those unfamiliar with the area, the Sapello, merged with the Manuelitas, joins the Mora downstream, en route to the Canadian, Arkansas, & gulf (at least in theory, as actual water molecules rarely travel that far from what flows here, taken up by so much life in countless niches first).
These gifts bring more than acres to the refuge network along the flyway edge, as they vastly expand the variety of wild habitat under public management, along with the potential for conservation education particular to our area–where high plains, foothills, little canyons and higher mountains fold into each other along the eastern slope of the Sangre de Cristo range in north-central New Mexico. With awe-inspiring migrants coming and going twice a year, the north-south migration corridor is a dramatic feature–as are the canyons, folds, forests and peaks.
Coming west from the Arkansas, up from the dry jornada and over the Turkey Mountains, or up the Canadian escarpment from the south, rolling grassy plains rise to 7,000’ by Sapello, where ponderosa covered finger-ridges rise higher and higher still, up to Lone Pine Mesa, granite outcrops, and mile on mile of peaks and ridges beyond, further than the eye can fathom. Streaming flocks of cranes and geese along the flyway naturally attract our attention, especially every fall when snow coats the ridges, grasses turn a rich amber, and the sky becomes musical with feathered travelers.
Long before modern settlement, early people followed wildlife here, some quarrying Clovis-style tools at Sapello [pronounced Sah-pay-yo], where hunters presumably used irregular terrain to advantage, including steep-walled side canyons where the ground thrusts suddenly into sheer cliffs. If plains, mesas, canyons and mountains fold into each other, so do culture and nature, people and wildlife. Human-wildlife relations have been (and continue to be) profoundly affected by the rich ecosystems of wrinkled terrain, with wildlife for all niches—endless and ever-surprising.
This diversity has distinguished the area from time immemorial, part of its enchantment, while providing sustenance and protections not available on the more exposed plains. Along the irregular edges where human and wild worlds meet, people have long drawn on wild bounty to supplement what they could produce by the creeks, with a sense of long-term relationship–not a place for conquering nature, using it up and moving on, in other words, but for living in harmony with what it offered across generations.
Being faced with such grand mountains and rugged terrain may foster strength, resilience, alertness, resourcefulness, and even individuality, a sense of independence from the rest of the world. It may also encourage humility, an awareness of how small the human part remains, and gratitude for the beauty and wonder of what’s here, whether freely ranging the high country, sweeping along the continental slope marbled with meadows and forests, or found in hidden little cañadas and along meandering creeks.
The Sapello property “on the other side of the mountain” helps bring into focus the refuge network’s educational potential, adding such a perfect place for learning stewardship, with a corresponding legacy. Consider this preface, then, for a few specifically Sapello connections to come—with Aldo Leopold, the Barkers of Beulah, “Eden Canyon,” and even a land-inspired network library in which all these may be cross-referenced!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~[Seeds 11f: 11 Aug. 2013]
As for the Barker-Leopold relationship, here are two articles which appeared in the FLVNWR quarterly when the column was called “Pine Cone Reflections,” named for the two “Pine Cone” newsletters Aldo & Elliot produced together.
Seeds of Thought (12): the other side of the mountain [Dec. 2013]
One’s first glimpse of the Crest of the Owl, el Cerro del Tecolote, a pink granite dome protruding from green forest, can take the breath away and set the heart beating at a higher tone, yet the impact deepens and spreads as we experience its various moods from different angles and directions. Few painters or photographers can resist for long; the same for eco-pilgrims, storms and lightning. Though not volcanic, it’s our “Fuji,” changing its views with each location, perspective and set of conditions, felt even hidden in clouds, a point of orientation around which roads, birds and waters flow.
Nicknamed Hermit’s Peak after the wanderer who camped by its top for three years a hundred and fifty years ago, it often represents more than itself—whether spiritual refuge or face of the wild beyond roads, alive not as separate entity so much as with a greater life connected to all the land around, including its people, weather and wildlife. Presumably cranes and geese registered its presence long before humans showed up to quarry Clovis-style blades and points near Sapello. Ever since, there’s been no line where wild and human worlds totally separate, just shifts in how they overlap.
Aldo Leopold defined conservation as the search for harmony between humans and land, its key practice being personal learning developed through attentive experience over time. Nature is everywhere, as evident wherever things grow on their own—and when bears, wild birds or blizzards come to town. But now humans are almost everywhere, too, even traversing the skies and among the stars. Human and natural voices may both be drowned out by the noise of machines, however, requiring periodic re-tuning, listening to the wild. Not that Leopold prescribed moving to a cave at the top of a wild peak. For most of us, the search for harmony involves finding balance between wild and human worlds, as between the various sides of our own nature.
Pick your own road, trail or creek—each has its devotees, and no two are the same. The higher up and further from towns and highways, the wilder the land becomes and stronger its energies, expressed in exaltation, wildlife, storms, and relative degrees of human and wild use. It seems our area has long been in the conservation education business, with a heap of wild country for each human habitation, mostly cared for by people with long-term roots. Practically every small farm, subsistence ranch and little village tucked between forested hills has some history as outdoor classroom and wildlife refuge.
Which fork you follow can make a huge difference in where you end up, even which side of the peak. My favorite route heads north on the Mora road, then curves in at Sapello around to “the other side” of the mountain. The way land wrinkles here, valleys quite close on the wing can be much further apart navigating rugged ground, and twenty times further by vehicle. The red-tail hawk (gavilan) glides easy thermals over “our” land along the Manuelitas one moment, for example, sweeps the new Sapello addition to the refuge network the next, the piney spines between no barrier compared to the steep slopes beyond.
Readers may find a sense of the deep land relationships felt here in Frank Waters’ People of the Valley, a novel set along the Mora; Oliver Lafarge’s Behind the Mountain, stories gleaned from his wife’s girlhood along the upper Manuelitas; &, especially, S. Omar Barker’s Little World Apart, the tale of brothers growing up along the Rio Gavilan–his avian pseudonym for the upper Sapello. Before heading New Mexico’s Game & Fish Department and penning his own prize-winning wildlife adventures, Omar’s older brother Elliot was Aldo’s right hand man on the Carson National Forest and co-edited The Pine Cone….
For more on such bards of the wild, including the legendary Barker humor, I’ll put some personal notes and related articles up in the cloud (on the “Aldo Zone” page at www.bodlibrary.com), e.g., “How the Pine Cone Found Its Voice” & “Gladly, the Barker Bear.” For now, it’s enough to note the influence of places like the Sapello, the Manuelitas and the Mora—and not just on writers. Words, like trails following creeks, may pass along the edges of wild country, even through and around it, absorbing its resonance, yet fall away before that expressive heart where nature’s older languages prevail, bestowing their stories, songs and wisdom slowly on all who come with respect, often in silence.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Seeds (12r): 14 Nov. 2013]
Seeds of Thought (13): In the heart of a child
Growing up with an older sister, I never accepted the crazy idea that wisdom flowed from older to younger. In adolescence, my conviction on this spread to include most adults. My opinion changed dramatically as a parent, when being older became sufficient grounds for knowing best, yet changed again with the advance of smart technology old folks must learn how to use from children, if at all.
Any correlation between age and wisdom was probably always tenuous. For every wise elder deeply informed by experience, we can as easily cite two reactionary old fools trying to resist progress holding onto an out-of-date status quo. Indeed, where institutional reforms are over-due, younger leadership can be the best or only hope for a way forward. The contradictory part of this equation comes from our own lives, in which we think we grow wiser with time in a more or less consistent direction, as if remembering even a little of what we learn should leave a cumulative residue in the positive direction. Who wouldn’t answer “yes” if asked whether they’d learned anything over the last year, however slowly, grudgingly, and/or unwillingly.
How is it we grow more informed year by year, yet as a group still seem to become progressively less smart than those younger? If not exactly blowing in the wind, the answer to this contradiction may nevertheless be just as basic—which is that much of what’s learned growing older comes from those younger, that same truth my sister had so strongly resisted. With none younger to learn from at first, we start out relatively ignorant. By the time we’re parents and teachers, we’re learning from the younger every day, whether we realize it or not, even when we think we’re teaching them. Eventually, with so many younger to learn from, we fall behind, yet may still find value in the effort–if only to keep the brain young.
So what does this have to do with wildlife and habitat? It turns out I resolved the contradiction above thinking about the Aldo Leopold family, then my offspring, and finally the effects of FLVNWR’s wonder-full activities with young people of all ages (e.g., the butterfly release, to take just one example of many). Where such wonder is shared, value circulates and multiplies. If the older have more information and experience, the younger tend to have more wonder and curiosity; learning depends on both.
As the Leopold children tell it, what they learned from their family land and wild-country outings flowed freely in all directions, along with the shared enjoyment of wildlife, games and music. In time these children became elders who, like their parents, never lost that wonder discovered young, from which their own commitment to land health and conservation grew.
Along related lines, my daughter Gita, who introduced me to A Sand County Almanac 25 years ago, just shared in a “Partners in Conservation” award, presented by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel to the Cienega Watershed, “a suite of public-private Arizona partners working together to sustain land and water health.” Frankly, it sounds a lot like what’s happening around here–with FLVNWR, our local refuge network, schools, property owners, scientists, researchers, and a variety of groups encouraging an ecologically healthy future.
It’s not just that conservation is a family affair crossing generations, or that it helps form a network of common purpose giving communities more resilience, but that it connects the ever young and the ageless with what earth renews each spring in the heart of the child within—a partnership that never grows old.
[Let me know if you find any of the web material useful. –RB]
Aiming for the first lift-off, I also snapped a number of empty fingers, making me appreciate all the more the poetry of the one just below, which I didn’t take.
The photo to right ran last issue–by Debbie Pike, refuge outreach specialist who organized the butterfly project.
Seeds of Thought (#14): Environment 101—Work together or…
Death is basic to time, life and nature, yet humans can escalate the scale and range of its dominion to unnatural levels, whether from intentional mass destruction or unintended consequences, species extinction to climate change. Nuclear buttons, mad fanatics, and thermal runaway aside, sowing seeds of suffering and doom as by-products of industrial-strength profit-seeking must be near “the bottom of the barrel” for its willful disregard of the harm caused, fraudulent shifting of the worst costs, and extent of collateral damage.
Nearly a century ago, Aldo Leopold realized the danger of using short-term economic measures to manage long-term, productive assets like land. Highly uneconomic choices could end up rewarding a few for harming the many–who pay with loss of future asset productivity and personal well being. Land decisions must consider the long term health, beauty and integrity of the living systems involved, he decided. Even so, he saw threats to vital natural systems escalating from the ever-increasing impact of our insatiable machineries. The wilderness idea was one response, an effort to protect some wild remnants while we could. The whole field of game and wildlife management was another, at the intersection of private and public, individual and larger community, human activity and wild systems, as well as where today meets the longer term.
Seeing how things connect may be the essence of science, especially ecology, as well as of social relations, where things like rights and responsibilities may work together or not work at all. Studying the relative stability and resilience of native prairie in dust bowl years, for example, Leopold found that diverse species practice a complex collaboration in their intertwining root systems across many levels, making a network that holds soil deeply, retains moisture and expands nutrient exchange. It seems no connections are more basic than those between habitat & inhabitants, mother & offspring, land & its net of life.
What starts as pondering, “Basic Thought 101,” just trying to see things more clearly can lead to conclusions with personal, economic and community implications, as shared understanding encourages action across “root systems.” Different points of view needn’t divide those with a common purpose, in other words, each performing separate tasks all the more effectively with a clearer picture of where their true interests coincide–as they do sooner or later with the community’s also. Clearer perspective promotes better choices, as parts affect the whole, and vice versa.
It’s a fundamental fact that the environment isn’t just around us, “out there,” for example, but is also quite literally and concretely “in” us also. Where else do our atoms and molecules come from? Molecules move across space, time and life-forms. Like the large oak grown from a small acorn, we, too, draw essentially all our physical substance from the ground, air and water. We may think ourselves in the environment, but we are also of it. It informs our senses, impacts our health, and becomes part of our physiology. If we harm it, we harm ourselves–as well as countless others through time, since it is also the commons from which all draw and return, individuals and species alike.
Over-drawing a resource can be wasteful, losing value even to bankruptcy, moral and otherwise. Poisoning a commons is worse, an inexcusable violation of the rights of those harmed and breach of trusteeship, our management responsibility. Such dangers become more real, less abstract, when encountered locally, where a little foresight can avoid so much harm. Our local counties now face their most serious environmental threat yet, from the possibility of “fracking,” deep-strata fracture-extraction operations that depend on biomass poisoning.
With so much at stake, affecting generations to come, clear focus on the elemental nitty gritty of still avoidable air, water and ground contamination ought to get advocates of different local responses working together on behalf of vital interests held in common.
[The photo of the beautiful canyon contaminated by an old mine was taken by Gita, by the way, especially for the article.]
#14 Follow-Up: Fracking Fundamentals~(with enough fallacies to go around)
With local counties trying to thrash out how to respond to, prevent, restrain, or otherwise regulate threats from fracking entities, I couldn’t keep from weighing in here. ]
Being so dependent on chance factors, like which molecules you happen to breath, many candidates compete for nastiest avoidable threat, & fracking is one, maybe not quite at the level of mountaintop removal, uranium wastes, open pits & toxic holding pools, but with more unknowns also, like the long-term effect of biocides injected into deep life zones.
Best to keep it out of sight, out of mind, if not entirely out of state, at least out of county. I won’t repeat the science of it, nor try to navigate the shifting barrels of chemicals & lists of the associated air contaminants, nor bore you with the facts about how often these supposedly regulated limits are actually exceeded, or the reported disease effects.
Most of those reading here know the score–we sing with the same choir, in support of healthy land, air, water and life. We do not accept the premise that modern economic necessity requires degradation of everything more truly valuable, beautiful, alive, including lives to come. We don’t accept the premise that people may shoot bullets, arrows, & poison darts into the shared air just because the responsible parties are separated from the ultimate victims. We don’t accept the premise that one may dump poisons into the river of time any more than into the creek we share now.
Most of all, we don’t accept the premise that one can intentionally poison any life-zone without effects spilling into other life zones. Life is like that–it doesn’t stay still, any more than water & air stay still, but crosses membranes across orders of magnitude, molecules, organisms, ecological relationships, chains, cycles & networks. Sometimes the connections seem counter-intuitive to the uninformed, often invisible to all. Inherently poisonous & necessarily lethal biocides may even be fundamental to the fracking process, however, so only a fool (or a profit-focused “outsider”) would accept the trade-off, as if the life-zones affected were separate from our own.
There are some quite striking fallacies associated with fracking & the local controversies spawned. One of the most dangerous is for those united by aim to be divided by approach. Wasting energy over differences that might better inform a broadly united effort simply gets in the way. This sometimes seems to be the case among some who seem more committed to a particular Community Rights Ordinance than to the ends it purports to serve. Pardon my editorial. And don’t get me wrong. I’ve heard the arguments. Bravo. I think there are some truly worthy principles stated or implied, potentially enlightening.
But NOT THE WHOLE STORY. When competent people of good will point out its practical deficiencies in being used for the stated aims, they deserve to be listened to also, for the value of what their expertise and perspective contributes. It’s not just a question of what should be, or where the system as a whole may want changing. It’s also a fact that we have the system we have–and for both better and worse, it’s somewhat complicated. Sometimes the same characteristics that keep people from accomplishing something good also prevent others doing the opposite.
In our system, leaders, professionals and individuals share overlapping responsibilities for decisions. In the proverbial sausage-making and scrambled eggs, the democratic process churns through a complex web of rights and overlapping jurisdictions–individual, county, state, federal, corporate and, in theory, planetary. Where gaps exist at one level, it’s up to the others to make up for them.
Where land decisions involve the larger living community our well being is also tied to, Leopold offered a simple, down-to-earth standard for guidance: choices that promote the health, beauty, and integrity over the long-term are good; those that don’t aren’t. Just saying so doesn’t get the job done, however. A free system with respect for the rights of others, including the right to do business, does not imply entities have the right to harm others, or degrade air, ground, water, or other long-term resources vital to the public good.
The issue of whether local control can simply ban various otherwise legal activities get complicated, and sorted out in various ways, including the courts. When you get right down to it, a part of the solution has to be regulation firmly based on sound findings, principles, and practical protections for the values of legitimate concern.
They needn’t capitulate by allowing unsafe operating conditions simply to allow or encourage what is likely to cost the general good over the long term. But the focus should be on protecting the resources and values, not preventing the activities per se a priori. If indeed, safe standards can’t be met, the activities aren’t then permitted.
From a legal perspective, it may be a question of keeping the horse ahead of the cart–the legitimate aim, which applies to all, not the end result, which restrains the special entities. Personally, I’m not arguing for one approach over the other. I think it’s often best when individuals do the right thing just because it’s right, as well as best, but also feel local communities deserve some serious say over what affects them so directly. On the other hand, our larger political structures are far from inherently useless, or necessarily adversarial. If some county or other geographical entity wants secession to facilitate abusing the rights of its inhabitants, well, that’s not such a pretty or enlightened picture.
That there are imperfections of note at these higher levels of social-political-economic organization can’t be denied. They should be attended to ASAP. But business goes on in the meanwhile, and the flaws should not be over-blown with the virtues ignored, let alone assumed to be fatal, especially with no more reliable alternative in view. That’s my 2-cents worth on the subject, in any case.
Expanding the Aldo Zone/ Cultivating the Seeds of Thought:
The Aldo Zone has branched out in two dimensions.
One extends coverage of issues raised in particular columns, adding postscripts and follow-ups to the articles, footnotes & after-thoughts. The other broadens coverage to focus on fundamental issues without the “Seeds of Thought” format as limit. “Fundamentals of Conservation” can be reached by clicking on GOING DEEPER.