The spiritual nature of the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff was an awesome experience for me. The sight of these sacred mountains took me off guard when they first came into view, and indeed, were the focal point of the sky all the way to Holbook, Arizona. I can see why so many first nations hold these mountains in such reverence, when from anywhere for hundreds of miles the shimmering white peaks are a beacon of light and orientation. The Hopi believe the Kachina spirits live at the top of the peak. Looking at this forested hillside on the way up the mountain to Snowbowl, I can almost feel the spirits there.
A friend of mine, Mark Hainds, is a forester and author, who has challenged himself to walk the entirety of the U.S. – Mexico Border. In doing so, he is noting the conditions of the landscape, meeting the people who live there, the people who are passing over the border in hopes of a better future, and experiencing the deep peace from long hours of silent walking. Be sure to visit his site above.
On Friday morning I dropped him off at mile marker 40 on highway 82 near Sonoita, Arizona. This is grasslands – basin and range territory – home of historic ranches, antelopes, and hardy people who love the land.
To a visitor is can seem very still but to locals who know its subtle changes, it is an exciting place to call home.
Luckily, the Nature Conservancy and the Bureau of Land Management had foresight to preserve large tracks of riparian habitats (those areas where water flows near the surface of the ground, and in wet seasons, runs in streams and rivers). When you gaze out across expansive grasslands and see a line of bright green trees, you have found water.
Today I followed the traces of water across the landscape by looking for those trees. While I walked the fields and paths, small herds of tawny pronghorns on far hills bounded in the high grass, white rumps flashing in the sunlight.
At the historic Empire Ranch, I listened for the voices of families, ranch hands, and cowboys lingering in the old structures of the house, cottages, corral, and barn.
Wandering the paths into a cottonwood gallery, I felt spirits walking next to me. A time gone but with lingering energies, whispering to us modern day visitors.
What are they telling us?
Would it be a cautionary tale? The ranch was passed through many hands, each family working it for 35-50 years, then to developers, and finally into the protection of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The ranch and 42,000 acres of riparian corridor and grasslands is now Las Cienegas National Conservation Area which we all can visit.
Yet these images show a time gone by, when the big cattle ranches reigned, and then died as water receded, and the demand of beef declined.
Perhaps we live in a more enlightened time. But, that remains to be seen. Will we remember the lessons of the past, or are we doomed to repeat mistakes with forgotten memories?
The ghosts of the land whisper to us. What are they telling us?
One whose spirit speaks to me is Aldo Leopold: “Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
Our Lady of Guadalupe inspires millions of believers, offering a mothering balm of love, peace, and forgiveness through her Blessed Son. Read the legend of the appearance of the Holy Mother on Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City. Her apparition was witnessed by Juan Diego who had gone to the hill at the request of his Bishop to gather roses for the church. The Bishop’s actions were inspired by a request for a sign from the Holy Mother after she asked the Bishop to build a church on the hill. When Juan Diego returned with the roses, an image of the Holy Mother was embedded in his tilga–a garment that has remained without any sign of wear or age for the last 485 years.
Miracles do happen but we never know how or sometimes why. The universe and the Earth herself are imbued with numinous qualities that we intuit but can never “prove”.
In my novel Threshold, Dolores Olivarez is a devout Catholic who recites the Rosary as she hikes the mountain to the top.
From a place of reverence, Dolores seeks to understand the meaning of her time and place, much as Juan Diego climbed to gather his roses.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,And sorry I could not travel bothAnd be one traveler, long I stoodAnd looked down one as far as I couldTo where it bent in the undergrowth;Then took the other, as just as fair,And having perhaps the better claim,Because it was grassy and wanted wear;Though as for that the passing thereHad worn them really about the same,And both that morning equally layIn leaves no step had trodden black.Oh, I kept the first for another day!Yet knowing how way leads on to way,I doubted if I should ever come back.I shall be telling this with a sighSomewhere ages and ages hence:Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference.
Tomorrow I will be a Bookman’s on Wilmot and Speedway from Noon to 2 pm for their Authors’ Fair. Hope you can drop by and chat and take a look at Threshold.
If you have a church group or book club that might wish to read a story about Tucson, with familiar settings and characters, give me a call at: 520-400-4117 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Threshold makes an enormous contribution to contemporary literature by teaching readers—in engaging and utterly consumable terms—about the physics of “the planet’s human induced fever.” Susan Feathers stages the need to know as part of the narrative dynamic. Key characters —academics, school teachers, museum biologists—understand only too well the processes by which the earth is growing hotter, while others don’t. The latter are in some cases too young or inexperienced to know; in other cases they’re complacent or too far in denial to face them. Those who know teach those who don’t. Through lively dialogues concerning, for example, how sunlight gets converted to electricity; or how oceans absorb solar energy; or how neighborhoods can set up electrical generating systems, we learn along with the characters. We’re invited to go through the same processes of recognition and assimilation that the various students in the story experience. READ A REVIEW ~ Mary Lawlor, Muhlenberg College
My novel, Threshold, was written over a ten-year period due to a period of care-giving for my father. I decided to revise the original story from one in the distant future to a more immediate story. Climate science improved over that period, and I realized that what we do now was the focus I needed.
In the new draft, two teenagers emerged that were not in the earlier draft. I believe my concerns for young people and years of teaching middle school and high school students in the Southwest resulted in three characters I love: Daniel – Junior Docent at the Desert Museum; Luna – emerging youth leader of the Tohono O’odham Nation, and Enrique – a troubled youth with a brave heart.
The story lines follow my conviction that we all play a part in the development of young people in our lives. We may even play a key role by just doing simple things like showing up with a platter of burritos (Mrs Carillo, Enrique’s neighbor), or offering a kind word at a particularly potent time (Harold Liebowitz with Daniel). Often, it is helping your child by letting them struggle (Luna’s mother). Youth need encouragement in ways that fit them.
They also need adults to clear the path by breaking down social and economic barriers that keep real talents from blooming or dying on the vine from poverty and hopelessness (Congressman Ramirez with his community). And some youths who have lost a parent or suffered an equally dramatic blow, just need us to be around dependably until they can get back on their feet (Ed and Carla for Daniel).
With the uncertainty of climate change, what can each of us do to empower and support the kids in our lives? What skills do they need, what can we change or strengthen while we are here that will enable them as they meet their future?
If it means changing a way of life, using different forms of transportation, giving up some of our sacred cows, will we be willing to do so for them, and all the children who follow? Read Threshold to learn what the adults in Daniel, Luna, and Enrique’s lives do to help them make a bright future.
Youth who are empowered and making change:
In 1878, John Wesley Powell submitted A Report on Arid Lands to the U.S. Congress. In it he proposed that land grants to settlers in the arid lands of the country be determined by the geology and physiology of the land. That may seem perfectly logical to modern readers, but in that time, myths about the productivity of the land dominated over reality. Manifest Destiny was a locomotive roaring across the lands of the west.
Powell’s ideas were based on science, as Wallace Stegner, in his brilliant biography of Powell’s service to the U.S., Beyond the 100th Meridian, dramatically illustrates.
Powell proposed that tracks of land for raising cattle or sheep be 2, 250 square acres, and irrigable land for farming be only 80 acres with water rights. Both of these proposals were based on the aridity and productivity of landscapes in the west which, for grazing, required much more than the 160 acres provided in the Homestead Act to find enough water sources for animals to thrive. He also demonstrated that the productivity of desert soils with the addition of water required only 80 acres–all one farmer and his family could reasonably manage.
Had government agencies deeding land to settlers west of the 100th meridian used scientific reasoning, we would have a different west today. As we did not, most of the settlers who obtained 160 acre allotments soon failed. Their land was not returned to the U.S. lands in public trust but rather it went to the banks who financed farmers production. Powell points out that the Homestead Act resulted in millions of acres of public lands going to corporations. Again, using scientific research Powell busted another popular American myth.
Powell further proposed that the government require land owners planning to use a given water source, such as a river, be required to form an irrigation district made up of nine potential land owners, to demonstrate they could successfully share the water over a three year period before obtaining title and water rights. He based his recommendation on successful models of the Mormons in Utah and Spanish land owners of New Mexico Territory with their ejidos resource commons.
Science was the basis of Powell’ prescience regarding the development of the western lands of the U.S. Today, science must help major Southwestern cities and regions rethink how to manage water among themselves. We will not be able to return to zero, but we can try to develop policies today that fit the landscape.
For the entire history of water development in the west, science has not dominated decision making but rather economics. Millions of Americans now live in cities where a reliable source of water is threatened, and millions of acres of agricultural lands, supporting American households and the world are on the brink of collapse due to long term drought conditions projected to last hundreds of years.
What kind of thinking and planning will be required to move us in the direction of a sustaining system for water usage in the West? How will our economic models need to change to run concurrent with the physical realities of the land and resources we wish to use?
As the people gather in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, and the voices of Native American and justice activists are heard, I want to consider the issue at hand as fundamentally a land ethic issue.
Energy Transfer Partners and Dakota Access LLC are in the process of hooking up an extended pipeline that will connect existing crude oil pipeline to a tunnel pipeline to shunt crude oil to Illinois. The tunnel pipeline is planned to go underneath the Missouri River, and Lake Oahe–near the point where the Standing Rock Sioux Nation’s reservation uses the water for drinking water and irrigation. They are a poor nation whose water infrastructure is aging and constructed in such a manner that if a leak were to occur, it would essentially shut down the water supply for the people at Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Read More: dakota-pipeline-article from Inside Climate News.
The truth is that water, land, wildlife and people can not be owned. Each has the inalienable right to exist free by virtue of our common creation. What we can do is equitably share and protect resources to ensure that all people and wildlife have basic needs fulfilled within the limits of the land to provide them. In other words, human needs have to work within the ecological ability of the land and waters to provide them. This requires an ecological awareness.
Aldo Leopold advanced a land ethic in his writing, as he grew in his understanding of what a community really is:
Leopold understood that ethics direct individuals to cooperate with each other for the mutual benefit of all. One of his philosophical achievements was the idea that this ‘community’ should be enlarged to include non-human elements such as soils, waters, plants, and animals, “or collectively: the land.” Aldo Leopold Foundation
Should the Energy Transfer Partners and the Dakota Access Pipeline operation have the right to build a pipeline underneath Lake Oahe and near the Missouri River that flows past the land of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation? And will flow through four states and other communities?
The 1134-mile pipeline will carry 500,000 gallons of crude oil each day to Illinois. Seventeen banks stand to profit and are advancing money to make it happen.
Three U.S. agencies warned against it, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used a corporate report from Dakota Access Pipeline to rule in favor of the construction. After a federal judged ruled in favor of the pipeline going forward, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Interior, and the Army together enacted a stay on that decision so that the EPA can reassess the original assessment of its safety.
As climate change impacts the world, should our society support continued drilling and transportation of crude oil to be burned and thereby increase warming of the planet and acidification of oceans? Of course not.
In the Southwest, where access to precious water will bring municipalities, tribal nations, corporate interests, and the U.S. government into negotiations over water rights, what values and ethics will we use to determine who gets what?
It is a question we must answer now.
Living on the Gulf Coast I am painfully aware of what its like when the grid goes down. Moist, hot coastal air enveloped residents in Pensacola after Hurricane Ivan. In some areas of the seaside city, residents were without power for two weeks. Life came to a halt: no business could be conducted, no schools could function, only emergency services were available; finding potable water and food became residents’ daily preoccupation.
But, what if the power grid in the U.S.A. went down? Security would be nonexistent, vulnerable people would perish from lack of cool or heat depending on the season. Markets would be down and silent. No trade could take place. The lifeblood of capitalism would be cut off.
How vulnerable is our grid? An article in the Wall Street Journal, How America Could Go Dark, reviews how substations on the grid are wide open to sabotage:
The U.S. electric system is in danger of widespread blackouts lasting days, weeks or longer through the destruction of sensitive, hard-to-replace equipment. Yet records are so spotty that no government agency can offer an accurate tally of substation attacks, whether for vandalism, theft or more nefarious purposes.
In my novel Threshold, a plot to disable the grid where hydropower is generated along the Colorado River system is discovered. It is designed to deliver a double whammy: loss of power and water. In the Southwest, that could be devastating.
The point is this: life percolates along in the face of climate change and other long-term security problems as long as citizens can turn on their lights and get water from a faucet. We are distracted by what is immediately before us : terrorism and violence and a failed political process that obfuscates the truth. Meantime, we are not paying attention to the trumpets sounding for our action.
Solutions will come at all levels of society. For example, the millions of dollars we need to secure our grid will require governments and business collaborations to make it happen. On the community level, citizens can bring pressure on officials for these reforms, and they can plan on municipal and neighborhood levels to protect people in the event of a grid failure or compromised water supply. See what Tucson is doing to promote neighborhood organizing for the latter.
The Olympic Games in Brazil may be remembered most for the list of woes it has accumulated as Rio 2016 approaches the August games. Now the death of a jaguar has cast a longer shadow over the event.
Images of a jaguar in a heavy metal collar and chains as the Olympic flame was passed from one runner to the next were quickly followed by news of the animal’s death. Juma, a 17-year old jaguar born into captivity at a zoo on a military base, was apparently brought out to provide a dramatic image at the Olympic ceremony. When he escaped and approached a soldier, he was shot and killed. As the public learned of Juma’s death. it caused worldwide outrage.
In my novel, Threshold, Duma is a jaguar born in the Sky Islands–mountain ranges that span the U.S. – Mexico border. He wanders into an area near Nogales, Arizona where surrounding cattle and sheep ranches lure him closer to human settlements. Duma is sighted and captured. Readers follow him from one facility to another while his fate is determined.
The role of zoos and aquariums is being reconsidered as the public is less comfortable with animals on exhibit. Is there a new role for zoos in the 21st century?
Research with dolphins, grey parrots, chimpanzees, and elephants, among others, show these fellow earthlings share similar life’s experiences as humans do. The movie Blackfish which revealed the stresses on killer whales in captivity, and the recent killing of Harambe, a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo, are just two recent examples that have furthered discussions about our responsibilities to the animals we love to see at zoos and enjoy knowing may still inhabit natural areas.
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, an AZA accredited institution, is one of several settings in Threshold. As the story unfolds, readers learn that climate change is causing stress on animals and keepers alike. The Desert Museum is a leader in care and exhibition of animals for public education. Explore ASDM’s website and publications to learn more.
TELL US WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT THE ROLE OF ZOOS AND AQUARIUMS. POST YOUR COMMENTS ON THIS POST.
Update: Here is the latest in a discussion at the Center for Humans and Nature: