Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Attachment to place

I spent the last week in SoCal, and passed by a familiar landscape with which I had become intimately involved over a number of years by working on a long-term project in the area. I had become very attached to this certain landscape that is really quite trashed from anthropogenic activity, through many visits with a variety of colleagues, from hydrologists to ecologists, soil scientists to botanists. I had tears in my eyes as I drove through the area, once (and now barely) home to three endemic plant species (spreading navarretia, SJ crownscale, and threadleaf brodeia). Between the ag, previous recreational bulldozing in the waterway, sheep grazing, and sludge spreading, there is limited potential for restoration. Most of my work frustration in SoCal was related to this area, and the knowledge that this place had been a wonderfully functioning habitat for a variety of species that had perfectly adapted to the arid but occasionally very wet, alkaline but wetland, tectonically spectacular environment (the closest large fault system is around 700K years old and is one of the most active in SoCal). I really fell in love with the place, and shared that passion with some of my colleagues (a place only a mother could love).

Recently, I spoke with a coworker about the differences between where we used to work, and where we work now (somewhere in the southwest with not too much housing development, but lots of other activity). We both came from larger metropolitan areas, with precious aquatic resources in limited supply. We both realized in our conversation that it was only infrequently that we privately felt dismay and, frankly, heartbreak at the potential loss of these special places where we are now. Where we once felt this heartbreak on an all-to-regular basis, it only comes very infrequently in our current location. I'm lucky in that most of my work currently is focussed on repairing an already-impaired aquatic landscape or just dealing with legal or regulation-related minutiae, instead of watching the wholesale demolition of 200-1000 acres with no vestige of the former topography left (except perhaps in the development's name).

My significant other must have thought I was nuts, sadly proclaiming my attachment to a landscape that looks like mostly a trash dump and meth lab haven, a place only someone with intimate knowledge of its potential could love. I disparaged the sheep, the sludge, and once again, wished I'd win the lottery so I could just buy the floodplain up and return it to its former glory (along with a spa weekend, anywhere). I also realized that it's really kind of nice not to feel that heartbreak on a daily or weekly basis; that it is quite a drain on one's soul to live with that sense of landloss regularly.

Even though many of my recent conversations have centered around "no, using car bodies as riprap in designated critical habitat for endangered fish species isn't really a good idea...", I'm doing a lot of proactive, restoration-oriented activities, as well as assisting industries and local governments to buck up their maintenance and construction practices. It's satisfying in a way I didn't get to feel in SoCal. I'm glad I'm here.

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