The delights of urban wilderness

  • Paul Larmer

 

I spent most of my awkward teenaged years sequestered in subdivisions among manicured lawns and black-topped cul-de-sacs. Fortunately, when after-school TV got too boring, I could leave the house and go exploring -- wandering alone through the scruffy patches of woods and fields that edged our orderly neighborhood outside St. Louis, Mo.

I remember the first time I stumbled into a patch of century-old oak trees a few hundred yards beyond the last house. Walking in their mysterious, muted light, I felt immersed in the depths of a green ocean. Lush thickets of wildflowers -- mayapple, dutchman's breeches and trilliums -- sprouted from the soft leaf litter at my feet. Above, from the rustling canopy of the leaves, came the complex strains of an avian concert -- produced by what I later learned was a colorful ensemble of thrushes, vireos, warblers, orioles, woodpeckers, poor-wills and jays.

Though I liked to imagine that my woods went on for miles, and that, like a frontier explorer, I could ramble into their depths until they petered out in the vast light of the Great Plains, I knew that they were just a tiny island, and an unstable one at that; a bulldozer could clear them away for new houses in a matter of days. This knowledge left me sad and angry, but I didn't know what to do about it.

Camron Stone, the main character in Emily Green's cover story, experienced similar feelings a couple of years ago when the Los Angeles County Flood Control District announced its plan to topple the small sanctuary of live oak woods behind his boyhood home. Like all good tales, Stone's quixotic battle to save the oaks starts small and becomes something much bigger: The remnant trees, it turns out, are a window into not only the agency that is frantically trying to find places for the sediment clogging its dams along the San Gabriel Mountains, but also into the unnatural history of the L.A. Basin itself -- a place denuded of its original oak forest and wetlands, and precariously re-engineered to give its 10 million citizens the illusion of control over Nature.

Those of us who live in the Interior West tend to view Los Angeles as a world apart, but there may be no better archetype for our region as a whole. What is the West but an overdeveloped, overpopulated desert civilization that relies on distant, unpredictable waters, and is huddled at the feet of rugged mountains prone to fire and flood? Fortunately, L.A. -- like the rest of the West -- is blessed with people who care about the landscape beyond the houses and highways. They remind us that some of the loveliest -- and most vulnerable -- places are here, just beyond our own backyards.

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Job Announcement: Executive Administrative Assistant (Part-Time) Announcement date: October 27, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: November...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Job purpose The Executive Director is a proven leader with demonstrated and sustained experience managing people, budgets, fundraising, and contract compliance who guides a well-established...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition seeks a Communications Associate to support the advancement of GYC's mission by working closely with the Communications Coordinator and program staff...
  • MONTANA DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    YOUR POSITION WITH TNC The Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure significant...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND OPERATIONS COORDINATOR
    Development & Operations Coordinator Terms: 1.0 FTE (full-time), Salary DOE ($45,000 - $55,000) Benefits: Paid Time Off (12-24 days/year depending on tenure), Paid Holidays (10/year),...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • CARBON RANCH PLANNER
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • EDUCATION AND OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Education and Outreach Program Director The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic,...
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...