Tomorrow I will be returning to Yuma, Arizona and Sonora, Mexico for restoration work on the Colorado River Delta through an independent study with Honors. Last year, I participated in this work through an Honors class, “The Colorado River and the West,” where we learned about the Southwest’s relationship to water and how human damming of the Colorado has affected its wildlife. As part of our restoration work, we planted trees at Yuma’s East Wetlands on the banks of the Colorado River, and then more the next day with Reforesta San Luis in Mexico. This class and that trip ended up having a large influence on my current relationship with the Southwest (basically, do I ever really want to leave?). In getting ready for my return, I found my final day’s journaling from last year (a spontaneous, fifteen-minute assignment that some spent petting a dog), and its brief reflection has me all the more excited:
As we wind to a close on this trip, I find myself reflecting on the nature of how I connect to these
places. For instance, right now, on the banks of the Colorado River, the heat of the sun and the sound of the birds fill me with a pleasure related to reminiscence: they resemble the heat and sound of my hometown, Chandler. Similarly, yesterday at the Laguna Grande, I was reminded of my summer camp [Chauncey Ranch, Mayer, Arizona; Rest in peace, my love] through the sparse vegetation mingled with cottonwoods and their sounds–with purple mountains on the horizon. Especially in this setting, it felt like camp as we bounced along the dirt road in our long van. Everything reminded me of happy, past moments, filling me with the calm joy of nostalgia. But my memories were layered with the experience of making new memories to inspire a later nostalgia too. That time I went to Mexico and planted trees. That time I had my first real Mexican food at a fiesta. That time we learned about Ant Lions.
I can’t help but think of this co-existence of past, present, and future in terms of the Colorado River and its wetlands too. When we look at these areas, I believe we are all inspired to a degree by a sense of total nature, untouched by humans, that we may have never personally known, but connect to in an instant, automatic, human sense. So we work to create places to inspire this mysterious, sourceless nostalgia through our conservation work. We plant trees not only for the sake of habitats, but to allow future generations to connect to the past of their planet. We learn about the Southwest’s use of water not only to conserve plain life for the future, but to create spaces reminiscent of a time when we lived with the land, instead of against it.
*Note on the pictures: I barely took any on the trip myself. Whoops. I was planting trees. The first picture of the cacti is from South Mountain in Phoenix. The two from Mexico were taken from Reforesta San Luis’s Facebook page.