What do we Constitute as Open Space?
on land, soil, climate and ownership — If (hu)man partnered with nature.
When dirt becomes dust it is no longer soil. I find myself in shock that the origin of the Dust Bowl is never spoken. To cultivate is to till, to cultivate is to remove ourselves from nature, or perhaps dominate and win against our great mother dirt.
I dream into this catastrophe of American ecological past while clicking through archival photos of 1920’s KKK gatherings in Boulder Colorado, where I live now. The past and present are one on the thread of circular time, and I want to remember why some people seem care free below the Flat Irons’ sky, pumping the spokes of their bicycles, and some of us are uneasy — finding it hard to breathe, poisoned by the water, developing cancers from the remnants of Rocky Flats nuclear waste. What is a place without its history?
But we avoid the filth, the disgusting bits of human nature — menstrual blood, sweat, urine, poop in an effort to forget we are all compost here.
Much of the open space parks east of Boulder are remnants of Lafayette and Louisville’s coal mining history. Open space of brush, broken earth bordered by suburban development. Little boxes on the rail line.
In some corners of open space it feels we’ve stumbled on the remains of (hu)man and nature left to dehydrate in the high desert. Spiders weave condominiums in dead grasses. Red ants track their treasures. Sunflowers wither into fall. The honey-ant place is in stories, dances, songs, and it is a real place which also happens to be optimum habitat for a world of ants. (Gary Snyder)
The grasses sing a song, not quite understood by my transplant ear. We are all indigenous somewhere. Their hymn is hot and cold, like the argument for eating our grass fed non-human friends. We are all indigenous to this planet, lest we forget.
Netflix’s newly released Kiss the Ground, proposes soil restoration as the key to reversing carbon emissions on our dying planet. Taking carbon from the air, and returning it home, to the soil. Something so simple, it just might work, if we gave up working the land for working with the land.
What is an open space on stolen land? I read the new land acknowledgement of a company I worked for back in California. A recognition of importance, a stating of truth does not return land to its caretakers. I bike past a sign reading “land for sale” knowing in another reality we did not take the path of first mistake, claiming land and body as comoditity.
The week before the Santa Cruz mountains and surrounding area went up in flames at the hand of rare bolts of central coast lightning, I was comfortably sequestered on a couch in the ‘most instagrammable neighborhood in the country’ reading about prescriptive firestarting work of the Yurok people of Northern California. The week before, I watched a documentary on trees, pausing in Henry Cowell State Park, and Donna Haraway’s flim Storytelling for Earthly Survival, which situates itself in her homes among the Santa Cruz redwoods. A part of me longed for the redwoods, as I often do. To touch the soft bark outside my childhood bedroom window. It was perhaps, the first time I grew lonely for the Santa Cruz mountains since moving east.
Deforestation was a cause of the Enlightment. To let more light in to the dark and scary places. It was believed sickness came from the forest. (James Hillman)
I sensed a storm coming passing row after row of corn across the American midwest — corn grown for the bellies of cattle and swine, not yours or mine — as I left Colorado for a late New York summer. By the time I was settled on the East River, the feeling of dread made itself know in the shape of fire.
My 6th grade science camp burned. A potter who’s mug I’ve used for years lost his home and studio. Flames crept within a mile of my undergraduate campus. Days later, fire started to push its way through Colorado — my two homes rained ash, an no phoenix rose (yet).
In Colorado, the open spaces, remnants of deep earth harvest, are adopted by various groups and organizations. From Latin and Middle English, adoption is a choosing. Where is the reciprocity in our choice? In floods and fires.
Beyond the open spaces are occasional signs for natural gas pipelines and other signs of continued deep earth harvest. A field or two of corn, and rolled hay sits on dusty acres. Perhaps, the complexity of what we’ve done is not as simple as the archival studio portraits of Laurena Senter, the Imperial Commander of the Colorado Women’s Order of the Ku Klux Klan posed seated, standing, and standing with arm raised in white silk robes hat, and cape adorned with crosses. Circa 1925, fires burn on the crosses, the ash of racism settling on the soil, the Dust Bowl a few years away.
In history of cyclical time, every movement of and on the land reflects and past and a future — in time there is no hiding what we’ve done, land always remembers.