As an ecologist, Paul Arbetan reads landscapes like others might read a graph: processing the information his eyes show him and analyzing the patterns of terrain and vegetation. On a hike in the rocky hills surrounding Santa Fe, New Mexico, Paul stops the Westies trailing behind him and points to a patch of earth seemingly indistinguishable from its neighbors. Upon closer examination you can see the faint remains of hoofprints in the bare soil, and he explains, “Blowout; overly grazed spot. Look at the way the grasses are. What happened to all this soil?” Observations and questions like these are a main component of the two-week-long field biology course that Paul teaches to Semester in the West. This segment takes the group on a tour through the beautiful, rugged, and diverse desert ecosystems of New Mexico with the foundational goal of giving Westies “a sense of why things are the way they are across a landscape.”
Paul’s connection to the program began when he was attending Lawrence College in his home state of Wisconsin where he became good friends with a politics student named Phil Brick. After four years of spending their weekends whitewater kayaking down the rivers of the Midwest, the two went off to pursue different careers. Phil eventually became a professor at Whitman College while Paul studied evolutionary ecology and population genetics. Today, Paul works as a consulting biologist. With clients such as the Department of Military Affairs and the Bureau of Land Management, his projects include everything from creating plans to remove invasive species to researching the biological impact of army training exercises. Paul’s motivation to do this kind of work stems from his passion for ecology and the natural world, or as he put it simply, “I like seeing country…[I] like understanding country. [I] like seeing the relationships across a landscape."
On a warm afternoon outside the Hyatt Regency Hotel and Spa in Santa Ana Pueblo, Nathan Schroeder stands in blue jeans, a short sleeved button up work shirt, and black sunglasses. As the Restoration Division Manager for Santa Ana Pueblo in south-central New Mexico, Nathan works to restore native ecological systems to the Rio Grande river corridor. After spending his undergraduate years at Bowling Green State University, he earned masters degree in natural resources management from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Having worked for contract restoration firms in Chicago for several years, Nathan moved to New Mexico after the Great Recession. Nathan enjoys living and working in Santa Ana despite numerous obstacles to the restoration he’s tasked with completing, foremost among them the gradual strangling of the river by both the Jemez and Cochiti Dams upstream. Operated by the Army Corps of Engineers, these dams have significantly degraded the Rio Grande to the point where “the river we have now is not the river we had 70-80 years ago.” Nathan’s work day ranges from the annual introduction of the endangered silvery minnow into the Rio Grande to extensive invasive plant removal along the banks. His restoration work is ecologically focused, often opting for more expensive but environmentally friendly options in plant removal and regeneration. Preservation of remaining natural systems is at the core of his work, for “it's hard to work with systems once you destroy them.”
Courtney White, an author and founder of the Quivira Coalition, lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, an area surrounded by jagged peaks and the open range of public lands. He is well aware of how livestock graze these lands; Quivira’s mission is collaborative conservation, specifically cooperation between ranchers and environmentalists. White himself is an exemplar of the confluence of environmentalism and agrarian land use. He started as a Sierra Club activist before, as he puts it, getting “frustrated listening to some of the environmental rhetoric…about how you deal with rural people.” Thus began the journey towards the creation of the Quivira Coalition in 1997. Quivira was inspired by ranchers, who, at the time of White’s frustration, were utilizing environmentally conscious grazing practices, including high-intensity low-duration grazing, which purportedly engenders the regeneration of native grasses. One such rancher is Bill McDonald of southern Arizona, who coined the term ‘radical center.’ The radical center is the space between preservationist environmentalism and disregard for the land’s health. As Courtney explains, “the idea is that we look at these landscapes collaboratively, ranchers and conservationists, and try to find different ways of co-managing [them].” White acknowledges that traditional grazing practices heavily degrade the land; however, when asked if cattle should be grazed on public land, he replies quickly: “of course.” The collaborative median that White and the Quivira Coalition foster offers a long-needed compromise in the context of controversial Western land management and conservation.
By: Fields Ford
Lynn’s excited voice welcomes us into their house! Timbers point skyward glowing in sunlight; light illuminating perfectly smoothed soft mud walls. It’s airy with polished floorboards, plumb and leveled. The house is set back on the property leaving space for a permaculture designed farm one day. Built by hand from white fir salvaged just ninety miles away from beetle infested woods, bluish stretches mark certain sections of board. Hand jointed, the walls are built with a Larsen Truss Matrix and then insulated with straw mud layers to “build breeze”. They have painstakingly layered each element of this house into being, from design through handy work. “This is my livelihood,” Justin says, shying away from proclaiming himself the expert he is. Lynn gleams, her proudest accomplishment the almost imperceptible arcs of hillsides, swaths of clouds, intensions she has streaked into the mud walls, individualizing it as their own. Two and a half years in the making, their house has taken form, as they build their dreams into reality. Lynn and Justin have spent the last ten years of their life “coming humbly to this” by building and learning as they go. Admiringly, they attribute their skills to their teachers. “Justin always designed for a little more than he knew how to do” Lynn beams, her hands dancing as he smiles, quietly but wide. Proud of where they stand, love wrapped into the placement of each beam and the surface of every wall, they have built a house and together are making a home.
By: Emma Rollins
Stanley Crawford and his wife Rose Mary moved to Dixon, New Mexico in 1969. Along the
Acequia del Bosque, they built their adobe house brick by 55lb brick. Spurred by the Back-to-the-land movement of the 1960s, Crawford started a life of farming and manual labor. Now, a retired writer of 79 years old, Crawford spends much of his time on this same property, tending to garlic crops on one acre of land and writing during the cold winters of Northern New Mexico. Crawford is a parciente (member) of an acequia, a small irrigation ditch running through his backyard, part of the customary water infrastructure of the region. A parciente is a community member who does their share of upkeep of the acequia in exchange for water, a step below leadership positions of mayor domo and commissioner, both of which Crawford has held in his nearly 50 years in the area. Crawford has drawn inspiration in life and work from this landscape, and has written 11 published works, including novels and essays touching on place, landscape and garlic. He also teaches classes at Colorado College in the department of Southwest studies. Today, Crawford relaxes into a comfortable chair in his adobe-walled living room, the air outside full of swirling yellow Cottonwood trees, characteristic of fall. “I may not be an expert in much, but I am an expert in my land”
By: Amanda Champion
Robert Templeton is an ornithologist and a passionate student of archeology and steward of its artifacts. A longtime resident of Dixon, New Mexico and neighbor to author Stanley Crawford, Robert is Stanley’s point-person for local lore about the area surrounding the Acequia del Bosque. Robert toured the Westies around a pueblo archeological site a few minutes away from his home. Not much is known about this site beyond a survey of the thousands of artifacts visible on the surface, Robert explained, because no graduate student has taken it on for a research project. The style of painted and textured pottery shards suggests the pueblo may have been inhabited for 30-40 years within 1250-1325, the time of the Pueblo 3 people. The site may have been spiritually significant because the culture’s sacred mountains are in its viewshed, one in each cardinal directions. To preserve the site for future research, the Westies took care to leave no trace and keep the clues intact as they explored the many pottery sherds, petroglyphs, and other artifacts found at the site. Robert continues to explore and learn more about this site and its significance in the bigger story of southwest pueblo peoples.
By: Elizabeth Greenfield