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…

The Fate of Jaguars: Juma and Duma

Jaguar SilhouetteThe  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:

Zoos as Gateways

Excessive Heat: Have We Passed a Threshold?

Threshold book coverAll across southern California and the Colorado River Lower Basin in Arizona as far south as northern Mexico, an excessive heat warning has been declared by the National Weather Service for the next 4-5 days.

Phoenix is expected to reach temps as high as 120 degrees — well above the norm for this time of year.

In my soon-to-be-released novel, Threshold, heat and evaporating water supply are two threatening conditions that impinge on characters. While the book is set in the “very near future”, the plot is contemporary and presupposes what might happen in a metropolitan city like Tucson, Arizona.

The impacts of climate change will be felt differently across a city or region depending on a person’s personal resources, both financial and social. I wrote the story in Threshold to explore what might happen, and allowed characters to tell me what they would do.

Enrique dabbed his grandmother’s face with cold water, but her breathing grew shallow. He ran to fill the tub with water. But when he turned on the faucet, no water came out. In a panic now, he returned to his grandmother. . . It took him a few seconds to comprehend what had happened.

WILL A “NEW NORMAL” SPUR INNOVATION?

The Citizen’s Guide for Resilience to Climate Extremes is a planning guide for neighborhoods to increase their resiliency and to institute climate solutions such as planting trees for shade and making walk-able, bike-able neighborhoods. It is a community-based model any city will find useful to mobilize citizen’s for climate change.

Check back to read Guest Bloggers from Tucson and the Southwestern region. 

 

Birth of a novel…

Books I read that informed Threshold.
Books I read that informed first draft of Threshold.

In terms of years spent writing as a principle activity, I am a relatively new writer. In 2003 I decided to leave working full time to begin a life as an independent businesswoman. This gave me time to write with more purpose. Up until then, I had written memoir and nonfiction pieces, attended a few writing workshops, but had not truly found my purpose nor honed a writing life.

When I made the Big Transition from working for an institution to working for myself, I had been serving the Desert Museum in Tucson as the Director of Education. This was a great privilege for me–one that brought me close to many experts and passionate defenders of the biodiversity and cultural diversity of desert communities.

At the same time, scientists were reporting increasingly disturbing forecasts about climate changes on global scale. The Tucson and Phoenix metro areas were also reexamining their water management plans. Working for myself gave me more uninterrupted time to read and to plan a book.

Writer's Cabin - Frank Water's Foundation
Writer’s Cabin – Frank Water’s Foundation

Threshold was first drafted at the Frank Waters Foundation in 2006 after I was offered an 8-week writer’s residency. The little adobe artist’s cabin on the Frank Water’s property sits at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Frank Waters’ spirit pervades the property. He is considered the grandfather of the Southwestern novel, writing and publishing fiction and nonfiction works from the late 30s to the 80s. All his books are still in print, a fact that proves the relevance of his thoughts and writing. As I wrote my story, I felt Frank’s spirit about.

Aspen grove by cabin - Frank Waters Foundation
Aspen grove by cabin – Frank Waters Foundation

Armed with an outline for a plot that spanned three novels stretching to 2100, I drafted a speculative fiction novel with an enormous cast of characters. I left the mountains with a 400-page manuscript.

This was an impossible task for a new writer of fiction. But, sometimes ignorance allows a creative mind to accomplish more than expected.

TO BE CONTINUED

The Internet: A Force for Good

My Sunday “church: is OnBeing.org, moderated by Krista Tippet. The program examines the questions, What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live, by interviewing the greatest thinkers, religious leaders, and artists of our time.

This week’s guest is Tiffany Schlain creator of the Webby Awards and prolific film maker.  The programGrowing Up on the Internet, examines how the Internet is changing us. Schlain asserts:

The Internet connects us like neurons in the brain. It is in its infancy and we are its parents; how it “grows up” – its character – is up to us. (Paraphrased by me from the discussion. )

This interview and the film below left me more hopeful that humankind can beat the odds, and make the climate curve together if we shape the Internet intentionally creating a global brain that acts as a force for good.

*Purchase or rent the film here: Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death, and Technology Online.  Film home.

Ecopoetics and Anne Waldman

Pensacola is blessed with many strong writers and poets. The West Florida Literary Federation leads the region in advancing the creative spirit. That includes supporting a Poet Laureate. Jamey Jones is the current Poet Laureate in Residence. He and the Federation brought my attention to Anne Waldman.

That I had never heard of Anne is both a testament to my ignorance and to the important role of the Federation in enriching individual artists’ and the public’s experiences in the arts.

From CNN - http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/08/living/manatee-endangered-species-feat/
From CNN – http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/08/living/manatee-endangered-species-feat/

Check out Anne’s moving Manatee Humanity. Her reading introduced me to the potential of poetry to advance understanding and compassion for a fellow mammal.

Anne talks about an encounter with a manatee in an aquarium in Florida.  In other interviews on her website, Waldman describes Ecopoetics, a term I had never read.  While you are on Waldman’s website, click around to listen to other performances. You are in for a treat and a powerful force for good. There is nothing ambivalent about Anne.

More:

The Eye of the Falcon

A Prophet for All Seasons

This film about Aldo Leopold’s life and the development of his thinking about our relationship with land is a true gem. I could not find when it was created, however, the people interviewed are his biographers and scientists who knew and worked with Leopold. It was shown on Wisconsin Public TV. A special treat is narration by Lorne Greene best remembered as “Pa” on Bonanza.

The film gives viewers an in depth history about Aldo Leopold’s life and how his ideas about The Land Ethic evolved over his lifetime.

WATCH EARLY THIS YEAR TO SET YOUR COMPASS TOWARD TRUE NORTH.

Don’t Forget Florida’s Forgotten Coastline

20140217_100305The Forgotten Coast of Florida near Port St. Joe, on the St. Joseph’s Bay, is one of the remaining intact ecosystems in the state and well worth a visit. This photo is near an Indian midden where you can view layer upon layer of broken shells left behind by Indian communities that shelled and fished on the productive bay.

Near the Old Salt Works Cabins on highway 30E, the bay is accessible down long weathered boardwalks. Visitors walk out into the muddy recesses or shallow waters where they can see urchins, tunicates, fiddler crabs, and juvenile fish that use the area as a nursery. 20140216_095052_4_bestshotPeppered through the sea grass beds we found the casts of horseshoe crabs from molting seasons before. My friend, Barbara, is an ecologist who spent the four days of our trip collecting casts and abandoned urchin shells. She described the sea grass beds along the bay as a treasure of Florida’s natural environments because they function as a nursery for numerous species of crustaceans and fish that are important economic species for the Gulf region and primary filters of pollutants that keep the water quality high.

We met a young family from the Atlanta area who were putting together a small catamaran to sail around an enclosed area of the bay on the St. Joe’s Peninsula that arcs like a curved arm protecting the shoreline from storms. Their young sons were busy seining for fish and other sea life. My friend joined them to teach a little ecology in the best environment in the world where children can see the ecosystem at work.

IMG_7142Earlier we had visited the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory and Education Center founded by Jack and Anne Rudloe, two of Florida’s important writers and educators about Florida’s marine wildlife. Priceless Florida, The Living Dock, In Search of the Great Turtle Mother, and Shrimp are just several of their many books. The lab and education center are filled with touch tanks and aquarium where families can learn about many species not easily seen from shore such as loggerhead turtles, and octopuses.

20140217_115901Later we visited the St. Andrews Marina which is a working marina where you can observe a variety of fishing vessels. The one pictured here has turtle-excluder devices (TEDs) that allow fast escape of turtles when they are caught up in the netting. Before this apparatus was invented, sea turtle deaths were much more numerous.

St. Joseph’s Peninsula State Park is a wonderful place to snorkel, kayak, fish, camp, and bike. Carl, Barbara’s partner in life and biking enthusiast, enjoyed the 27-mile round trip on a newly completed bike path from the Old Salt Works Cabins to the entrance of the wildlife refuge. The refuge on the last seven miles of the peninsula is a terrific walk where you can observe thirty foot dunes – how much of Florida’s coastline once looked before massive storms and human activities have diminished their size and capacity to shelter the coastline.

Seven Gems

These are books and authors that I  have read and reread that I am posting today for you and especially your thoughts if you too have read them.  These books are dear to me for their wisdom—powerful narratives that explore indigenous and European values through the experiences of characters. Some, like Loon Feather, are of the rarest beauty.

This original meeting of Two Minds began 500 years ago on the North American continent and play-out today as we make decisions regarding wilderness, use of public lands, climate change, and our basic human relationship with each other.

The Seven Gems

Loon Feather by Iola Fuller (1940)

The Man Who Killed the Deer by Frank Waters (1942)

I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven (1973)

The Work of Wolves by Kent Meyers (2004)

The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich (2006)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (2011)

The Dawn Chorus

Aldo Leopold, the 20th century’s most important conservationist, is brought to life in this recent interview on Living on Earth.  Steve Curwood interviews Stanley Temple, Professor Emeritus in Conservation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who is a Senior Fellow at the Aldo Leopold Foundation. Specifically, Aldo regularly recorded the dawn bird chorus on his farm.  This journal increases in value as a baseline record of bird species on a worn out piece of land which he bought to restore to life.  Over decades the Leopold family replanted trees and native plants—often a disheartening activity as many perished before some “took.”

In this interview, Temple explains how he found an unpublished manuscript from the Leopold papers, archived at the University of Wisconsin.  Leopold used one of the first light meters of his time to coordinate the level of light from night to dawn with the sounds of the first birds—the Dawn Chorus.  What got recorded for all time was an invaluable record of the environment against which today’s environmental elements and biodiversity can be compared.

Unlike what is happening in general to habitats, Leopold’s land has increased in biodiversity due to its restoration of native vegetation and watershed.

Enjoy the recording during the interview, and also, a current recording in which the sounds of the birds are nearly drowned by the noise from a nearby freeway.