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The Wending

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posted by Courtney Meier alias courtney_meier on Wednesday 21st of October 2020 05:06:00 AM

The East River wends its meandering way past golden stands of Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) and darker groves of fir and spruce, near Crested Butte, Colorado. The river passes the cathedral-like Gothic Mountain (behind me), and then proceeds around the flanks of Crested Butte (out of frame to the right) before joining with the Slate River and speeding southward toward the Gunnison River. The Gunnison River navigates an erosional masterpiece - it's own Black Canyon (a post from there to come) - before joining with the Colorado River at the Grand Junction. In earlier times, this same branch of what we now call the Colorado River was called the Grand River, and so the town is named for the twining of rivers where the Gunnison meets the Grand. It turns out that the history of the name is interesting in that these early squabbles about the provenance and politics of water in the arid west would be an almost clairvoyant vision of the current state of affairs. There is a fundamental knowledge when it comes right down to it that water is life. We humans are not well adapted to living in deserts with the population size we currently have. Not many other animals are that good at coping with the extremes of full-time desert life either. There is a line in Craig Childs's book Soul of Nowhere about a desert lurking underneath every landscape if the amount of water begins to drop. To know what lurks under the thick forests of the Pacific Northwest, look no further than 100 miles east to the sun-blasted basalt of the Columbia Plateau. Just consistently add water over thousands of years to move from one to the other. Here in Colorado it is easier to see the lurking desert. There is still enough water to support tree growth, but as seen here the density on south-facing slopes is confined to the narrow places where water gathers, and there are wide open spaces with no trees at all. Putting the liquid heart of water at the center of the human narrative, our success story if you will, it is worth considering these things: 1) Virtually all of the land west of the 100th meridian in the current United States is susceptible to and experiencing extended periods of drought and wildfire, courtesy of a warming climate; 2) Oil and gas extraction, while employing a good number of people, also uses from 1 to 13 times as many units of water per unit of fossil fuel produced; and 3) The vast majority of all that water used then ends up as toxic wastewater. This means that oil and gas extraction results directly in exacerbating an already warmed climate, and also indirectly reduces water tables, leading to less water to meander down the curves of western rivers like this one, generates toxic wastewater, and creates an ever greater likelihood we will live to find the lurking desert beneath all the places we hold dear. To me, it is biologically rich open spaces and the deep indigenous knowledge of their functioning that are at the heart of what makes America great. Protecting the natural heritage that defines who we are is an idea that makes me feel conservative, just one from the first Roosevelt Administration. Assembling these pieces together, it seems to me that moving to an economy based on alternative forms of energy cannot happen too soon, and it will also create a lot of fine manufacturing and technician jobs that may replace the extraction industry jobs that we currently support. We are all linked. In today's world, the survival of the rural and its beauty as we know it is dependent on the success of the urban, and vice-versa. So vote as if your children's lives depended on it. Vote for people who will help maintain the healthy water we need for our communities and for the natural environs upon which we and our animal brethren depend.

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  • Published 09.19.21
  • Resolution 1023x681
  • Image type jpg
  • File Size 297413 byte.

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