In Southwestern Louisiana where the wetland exists in a variety of conditions between water, earth and sky somedays it feels like I am floating with no definition between one and the other. And just when water fully merges with sky a sliver of land appears.
I am on the road again. Traveling away from Louisiana. A few hundred miles across a state line and the horizon in front of me seems like another reality. I imagine in a way , that’s true.
We seem to lose sight of what is important in the world when things are not right in front of us.
I visited Grande Isle, on the coast before leaving Louisiana. Grande Isle was a resort destination at the turn of the last century. A landscape that Kate Chopin wrote of in her novel “The Awakening.” It’s beauty must have been significant – it must have been full of grace. Today it is crowded with cheaply built beach homes. The grace is gone. Grande Isle is recently remembered by most because it was the primary beach that the oil spill from the Deep Horizon disaster washed up on. The oil is now buried under the sand. Upon the sand are the things that mark the island’s condition and abuse. Shells mixed with plastic debris. The loss of birds to the oil pollution still obvious.
I remember Grande Isle on this day, and on the days to come when I return to my home in the Northern Rockies.
As much as I look forward to going home, I will long for another day on the marsh, another day full of the scent of magnolia, jasmine and gardenia filling the streets of Spanish Town.
“this is much more fun than learning…” she said. And like a passage from “Alice in Wonderland” after Alice fell down the rabbit hole I responded,” but you are learning and you haven’t even realized it .” The day was glorious. Full of new experiences. Immersed in the world as we all should be, learning from the world and each other. Not in a room, or from a text book lesson. Boat rides to the beach edge , walking the ridge alive with ancient oaks, the first line of protection for the marsh from hurricanes . Up bayous and dispersed in groups of two and into the marsh to wander through a vanishing landscape. Polling the boat through shallow water . Pulling caught catfish from the line. Knowing where your dinner comes from. This is the best source of learning. Learn to live and love. Be passionate about the things in life you care about.
Montana, my home for the past thirteen years, is easy to fall in love with. Its dramatic mountains, wild rivers and clear streams make for perfect wilderness adventures, and great settings for the romantic novels of the West.
Montana’s rich wild lands and wildlife are fully and aggressively supported by organizations such as the Sierra Club, National Audubon Society, Sonoran Institute and the Nature Conservancy, who’ve made it their mission to protect and conserve the region’s beauty and qualities. The northern Rocky Mountains are held in such high regard that most of these organizations also have key offices in Montana to assist with on-the-ground efforts and provide field reports to their main offices. Their successes are measurable through the general public’s knowledge about and support of these places. Both the staff and members of these conservancy organizations join together to work toward significant conservation efforts like the preservation of grizzly bear and the reintroduction of the wolf, as well as more basic tasks such as building trails and teaching environmental courses.
Last Year I fell in love with Louisiana’s wetlands, a place I had never been before. I was not prepared to be so captivated by this landscape or its people. From a distance the wetlands seem easy to know through a quick experience – simple, even simplistic. Yet, what I experienced was something quite different, a place that is wild, vibrant and intense, complex and rich. If the Rockies are all about straight-forward drama, wetland drama is reserved and subtle, requiring the investment of time and self-reflection. Louisiana’s wetlands are a viscous concoction of water, earth and air, elements constantly shifting in their percentages and relationships to one another. Sometimes more water, sometimes more earth, always the humid air holding an in-between quality.
Spending time with the people who call Louisiana’s wetlands home provides a window into a contemporary culture that remains invested in the place for sustenance, livelihood, art and daily passions. Despite the inherent richness of the Louisiana wetlands, and the despite the experiences of wildness and beauty they provide those who come to know them, the uneasy truth is that the wetlands are vanishing. In part this is due to our abuse and over-use of them; in part it’s because, unlike Montana’s landscapes, they do not receive national public attention, much less a similar level of political and activist support.
The loss of Louisiana’s wetlands means we lose one of the most vital and necessary ecosystems in North America. When we disregard this place, we not only fail to recognize that the survival of other creatures depends upon the wetlands’ continuation, but also that they and the wetlands are integral to our own lives and well being. There are many reasons for this, including such basics as the wetlands’ role in reducing erosion and retention of clean water. But according to Dr. Paul Kemp, the reality today is that approximately “one football field of wetland is disappearing every thirty minutes.”
Imagine, for a moment, watching your homeland disappear……..the place you live and love.
What are we to do when faced with such potential devastation and loss? As I see it, there are only two choices: complacency or engagement. Engagement is not an armchair activity – to change the direction of a current condition requires us to be vigilant, intentional and active. As we prepare to enter a new year, I challenge you to choose engagement. Learn the value of the wetlands; learn about the place you live. Understand what’s at stake for all of us, take initiative, take action – as an individual or a group member. Volunteer to leave the Earth a better place than you found it. As Annie Dillard has written, and I try to live by everyday, “grasp your one necessity and not let go.”
My love of place is now divided between Mountain and Delta. I am fortunate, however, to have the ability to spend time in both. In Montana as director of Artemis Institute, and in Louisiana as the 2011-12 Marie M. Bickham Chair in the School of Landscape Architecture at Louisiana State University.
Learn More: read Terry Tempest Williams’ essay, “The Gulf Between Us” in Orion Magazine, go to http:// www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/5931