National Parks: Citizen Library

Carlotta Walls LaNier

In the previous post I described my joy in visiting the Central High School National Historic Site which preserves and tells the story of desegregation in Little Rock, AK. There I bought two memoirs, one by Daisy Bates (The Long Shadow of Little Rock), the other by Carlotta Walls LaNier with Lisa Frazier Page (A Mighty Long Way). [*This link includes an interview with Mrs. LaNier and an excerpt from the first chapter, and links to purchase a copy of the memoir.]

Both memoirs brought me renewed appreciation for the personal struggles of individual Americans striving for their civil rights, and the importance of parents being involved in their children’s education. Reading both books rendered a deeper understanding of historical events through the lived experiences of my fellow Americans. The NPS Interpreter was also a powerful communicator who brought history to life–another important function of our National Parks.

On my current sojourn in Kentucky, I drove to Mammoth Park –another National Park site–preserving and interpreting one of the world’s great natural wonders. In 2016 it celebrated its 200th anniversary!

Stephen Bishop Portrait

In their gift store, I headed for the books section. There I found a historical novel by Roger Brucker, about Stephen Bishop, a famous and early explorer/guide at Mammoth Park (Grand, Gloomy, and Peculiar). Stephen was a slave at the time his owners assigned him the duty to serve as a guide at the privately owned wonder.  It was already a favorite travel destination for wealthy and local people. The associated hotel inn for guests owned slaves who cooked and cleaned for guests. Charlotte Brown was a slave working at the inn. It was there that she fell in love with Stephen Bishop. They would eventually marry.

The novel’s story is told through the voice of Charlotte Bishop. The narration is based in part on Charlotte’s real story. Historical documents and testimonies from people who met and knew Stephen and Charlotte guided the author in writing this delightful book. (I am about half way through.)

My point is this: if we do not know history, how can we navigate the future? Each of these National Parks sites, and the books I found there, provide citizens with living history. Our National Parks are repositories for learning and recalling great moments and individuals in history.

This video of an interview with Rebecca Solnit, columnist with Harper’s Magazine, prolific author on climate change, environmental issues, and other culturally relevant issues, is a clear point for those of us who feel disoriented by the sweeping changes being made in D.C.

https://hot.dvlabs.com/democracynow/360/dn2017-0328.mp4?start=2758.0

From this interview on Democracy Now on March 28, 2017, this excerpt is most important for those of us who are engaged in resisting the dismantling of hard won environmental protections and action on climate change. I recommend listening to the whole interview at the link above. Solnit has a comprehensive perspective on “where we are” and what is the work now.

What concerns me, after 30 years of activism, is that a lot of people will think, “Well, we did something today, and we didn’t see results tomorrow.” So one of the things I’ve been writing about for The Guardian and elsewhere is just trying to remind people that this is a long process, that we may be in, you know, the early stages of really redefining what democracy is going to mean in this nation, reforming the systems that were already moribund and stagnant before—you know, Trump is a consequence of a dysfunctional system, not a cause of it. So we have enormous transformative work to do. And people are actually doing it. If we keep at it, if we’re smart, if we’re skillful, if we’re more passionate about solidarity than the kind of perfectionism of nitpicking small differences, I think that extraordinary things could happen, not that they’re guaranteed. It depends on what we do. But it’s an exciting and even exhilarating moment, as well as a heart-rending and terrifying one. And those things can coexist.

Following the Trail of Water

Mark Hainds, Border Walker

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.

Grasslands of SE Arizona

To a visitor is can seem very still but to locals who know its subtle changes, it is an exciting place to call home.

Patagonia Lake State Park

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.

Cottonwood Gallery Forest

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.

Old Barn
Empire Ranch Grounds circa early 20th century

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.”

When the cows and the buffalo roamed…

And just like that, a second novel

Mountains to the Sea

Well, that second novel has been “cooking” in my mind for many years, and builds on years of experiences that reach back to 1990. That year I moved to Yuma, Arizona to teach middle school students at Crane Junior High School. Yuma first introduced me to the Sonoran Desert, and naturally, I experienced the hottest part of it first. Yuma temps that first summer hit 122 degrees Fahrenheit. My friends and neighbors taught me how to stay safe while traveling, and how to get out early in the morning before the heat made it impossible.

All around the school and neighborhoods where I lived, agricultural fields stretched out in long even rows with canals as borders, while row upon row of blue water soaked into the ground, evaporating in the intense heat. Surrounded by a sea of broccoli, my school was embedded in the large-scale industrial farming operations in which many of my students’ parents labored. On these intensely hot days, I wondered at the ability of human beings to endure hard labor in those fields.

AZ Agriculture Photo

Then, the fact that the water came from the high Wyoming plateaus and Rocky Mountains was only vaguely in my awareness. Precious river water poured down through deep canyons into the dams that controlled the North American Nile, and by a complex system came to Yuma and the Imperial Valley to grow 90% of America’s leafy produce between November through March. Then, I was focused on my students’ daily struggle to learn and grow up under harsh conditions of poverty and discrimination. But, all around us was a BIG STORY about a river, its people, and how it came to be the most controlled and overused body of water in North America. Indeed, the Colorado River is so over-allocated that it no longer winds its way to the Gulf of California as it did for thousands of years.  The  magnificent delta region, one of the world’s largest and most productive wetlands, literally dried up and died.

This is the subject of my second novel, The American Nile: Voices of a River and Its People. I am working with a talented editor and should have a solid draft completed before I return home from Tucson in late April.

What about food supply?

“Changing climate equals changing water” is the phrase that many water and climate experts in the southwest are using today. As the temperature increases, and less rain falls, soils are depleted of moisture in a cycle that turns healthy soil into barren landscapes.

The seeds that we use, the means of careful water use to grow them, and the quality of the fruit and legumes produced are now in a precarious time when climate is less certain. Seeds that are specifically adapted to a region with long genetic history may become more important due to their unique resiliency to heat and drought.

Our commercial, industrialized food system is highly dependent on predictable conditions not only in the agricultural fields but also in the transportation systems that now intersect with a global market system. If too hot, planes may not be able to fly; if sea level rise or large storms destroy ports, cargo ships are not able to pick up or drop off cargo. When food is not shipped in a timely manner, it can rot as it sits in place as with fresh fruit and vegetables.

In Threshold, Ed Flanagan, food bank operations director and climate change denier, has to confront his beliefs as his normal food supply sources are in turmoil.

The dependable food supply we are accustomed to in developed countries is at a threshold with current and predicted climate change realities.  Protecting our food supply personally, nationally, and internationally should be part of the work we all can do to build resilience to changes in our climate.

 

America’s Wildlife Refuges: the Last Stand

Crane fledgling_illustration_nwf
Crane fledgling_illustration_nwf

On my journey to Tucson I decided to visit some of the nation’s wildlife refuges, beginning with the Mississippi Sandhill Crane refuge, near Moss Point, MS. The refuge is comprised of private holdings, public lands, and joint agency wildlife management areas. It is beautiful. The cranes are a native species. There are 139 cranes in the whole refuge which spans thousands of acres. When I asked why so few, the docent asserted the current population was a huge success: the population had declined to a few dozen at the time the refuge was established.

Many specific efforts have been ongoing from restoring the habitat to its natural condition  to hand-rearing crane infants to adulthood, and releasing them into the refuge.  The Mississippi Sandhill Crane is considered an “umbrella species” by scientists; it is protected under the Endangered Species Act. The latter protects habitats through the keystone or umbrella species that are specifically shown to be threatened or endangered. This results in thousands of other species being protected under the umbrella.  Restoration of the watershed, forests, and marshlands benefits humans with beauty, hunting and fishing opportunities, research, clean watersheds, and flood control.

I spotted three Sandhill cranes under that shade of a large oak in a privately owned home adjacent to the refuge–along with a rooster and hen. Looked like a leisurely commiseration among species.

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGES

I also visited the Atchafalaya NWR and the Lacassine NWR. They are both located in Louisiana and are wild places. I saw hunters and fishermen, boating, and wonderful old hunting camps and clubs at Atchafalaya, and flocks of egrets, cranes, geese, and ducks at Lacassine. The latter has a 16,000 acre fresh water pool that is mostly filled by rainwater. The marshes are wild places alive with birdsong and the croaks and bleeps of habitat teeming with life. This refuge is at the juncture of the Central and Eastern flyways and provide overwintering and stopovers for thousands of migrating birds. Louisiana is this kind of contrast: all around the refuges are oil refinery plants, and gas pipelines thread through the land and water resources along the I-10 corridor. So while the state may support a highly polluting energy source (one we all use without a thought), the state also highly values wildlife. It is a cognitive dissonance that lingers on my mind as I head out into the Texas plains. I plan to stop at the Prairie Chicken NWR today.

Threshold – Readings Scheduled in Tucson

Starting in November, I will be reading from Threshold, my new novel published by Fireship Press. I hope to schedule many kinds of readings from bookstores, to organizations, to private book clubs in Tucson, Phoenix, and the region. I am also happy to talk with nonprofit groups working toward similar goals who may wish to fund raise with the boo–a portion of the book sales to go to your mission.

November 12 I will read and discuss the book at the Annual Membership Meeting of the Tucson Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, PSA Chapter Arizona, to be held at the Amity Foundation.

PSR Arizona works toward a sustainable society, mitigating climate change through clean energy production, resiliency building among neighborhoods, and a nuclear weapon-free world.  PSR developed Climate Smart Southwest, a training program for neighborhood leaders and associations to begin to build relationships and knowledge in their residents for combat climate change and also to work toward more sustaining ways of living. Clean energy, local food production, and emergency procedures are all part of the training. The hope is that Tucson and the region will  respond to climate change with a blend of old and new technologies that will protect people’s health while building a sustainable future in the Southwest.

In Threshold characters are dealing with impending water shortage while managing frequent power failures in the Southwest during increasingly hot temperatures. Hyperthermia and heat stroke are common, and without specific knowledge and action on the part of citizens, an increase in fatalities shocks the community. As the story progresses characters make decisions, allowing readers to consider what they might do in similar conditions, or how their own community can plan to mitigate climate change in their own region.

Other Scheduled Readings:

November – Reading at Private Home with Neighbors and Book Club

November 12 – Annual Meeting of the Physicians for Social Responsibility, Tucson Chapter, at the Amity Foundation

November 19, 12- 2 pm, Bookman’s, Tucson at Speedway and Wilmot

November 26 – COAS Bookstore, Las Cruces, Book Signing

December 19 – National Writers Union, Tucson Chapter at Bookman’s

March – Date TBA – Mission Garden, Tucson’s Birthplace

 

A Brand New Kind of West

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.

NPR’s 2003 Program on The Vision of John Wesley Powell

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?

Who Owns the Water, Air, and the Land?

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.

Read about the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline

 

Follow the Trees?

From Mt. Lemmon Homeowners Guide: http://mtlemmonhoa.org/plant-information.html
From Mt. Lemmon Homeowners Guide: http://mtlemmonhoa.org/plant-information.html

If we were really paying attention, we’d notice that trees are on their way up the mountains. With increasing drought and heat, soils evaporate more moisture. Trees are gradually found in greater abundance at higher elevations. Lower ranges where trees forested the landscape are turning to grass and woody shrubs.

In Tucson, where my novel, Threshold, takes place, a long term study dramatically revealed this “march up the mountains”.

Richard Brusca and a team of scientists found the lower ranges of mountain conifers and trees had advanced up the mountain over a 60-year period. During that time they also documented a decrease in average precipitation and a 10 degree increase in average temperatures on Mt. Lemon in the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson.

A study conducted in the ’60s established the baseline data for a companion study using the exact same transects and protocol to count the numbers of species in the study area. This allowed scientists to compare and document  changes over time.

The message? Forest communities are undergoing ecosystem change on a large scale and in a relatively short time.