Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bearing Witness

We owe it to ourselves, to our children, our grandchildren, to the earth that sustains us, to bear witness to those wild things that are endangered.

A portion of the Baker-Haskell Wetlands on the south edge of Lawrence, Kansas, is set to fall to the bulldozer (at a yet unspecified time as far as I know), victim of our intense desire to get from point A to point B in as little time as possible using as many vehicles as we possibly can. A bypass is set to plow through the wetlands. This will not do harm to the wetlands and its residents, according to "experts."

I cannot believe that. Everything affects all around it. I can't imagine that tons upon tons of concrete bearing whizzing, poison-spewing vehicles will not do damage to the wetlands and its wild residents.

Many claim that this bypass is unnecessary and will not solve traffic issues it is intended to solve.

Mitigation efforts will be made, that is "creation" of new wetlands areas. But that will not truly make up for the destruction of these wetlands created by natural forces over how long I don't know. It will not be the same. It might look similar, but the very foundation of it will be much different.

Like the prairie. Kansas has some of the few remaining acres of virgin prairie... prairie that has developed and evolved over 10,000 years, give or take a few, since the last glaciers retreated. Millennia of evolution has created a specific soil structure, a unique population of soil microorganisms and macroorganisms, specific mixes of plant and animal species. We've plowed and torn up most of these prairies. Yes, we can "restore" them, we can plant seeds of similar grass and forb species, protect remaining native critters. However, that restored prairie will not be the same as that which evolved over 10,000 years.

Like the prairies, these wetlands have evolved over how ever many millennia. The wetlands hosts unique mixes of plants and animals, has a unique foundation -- soil structure and microbial population that we cannot replicate.

So what? Many will ask.

This is a question I cannot answer with logic or science. This is a question that can only be answered from the pit of my soul -- "Because."

Because we humans do not recognize the inherent value of the wild  things, of the ages old natural environments. We only understand when they are spectacularly beautiful or strange or unique -- the Grand Canyon, for example. Especially if we can put a monetary value on their existence. We overlook the inherent value of those things that we deem ordinary or not so beautiful. The prairies are "just grass." The wetlands are "just swamps." The only way to save them seems to be to show where they improve the balance of the bottom line.

But my soul cries out at the loss of these things. My soul is wounded when a pipeline cuts through areas so wild that humans cannot comfortably inhabit them. The human soul is wounded. We will never know the true value of these things... at least not until they are gone.

A fuzzy look at a wetlands inhabitant, some kind of sparrow.
Unless that is, we stand in the middle of a virgin prairie, with grasses waving, wildflowers blooming or setting seed, birds winging across a blue sky that stretches so so far... or stand among the sea of cattails in the wetlands, watch a muskrat swim in the slowly moving water...  and let loose of the "mind," opening our hearts, opening our souls...

When we recognize the vastness, the depth of the wild places, we find our true position in the broad scheme of things. That comforts some of us.

But it frightens the shit out of many more of us. So we "prove" our superiority, our value, our power by bulldozing across these natural places, dismissing their value because we can't put dollar signs in front of it. And the bulldozers cut large wounds across the collective human soul.

A portion of the Haskell-Baker Wetlands is owned by the Haskell Indian Nations University and will not fall prey to the bulldozer. However, the entire wetlands is considered a sacred place by natives and by many of us who are not native. The bypass construction will disturb the sacred ceremonies that are held there, although the "experts" say that the sound won't be disruptive. Sigh. How little they understand.

Many have fought this development for years, but the courts say it is legal and all the proper "legal" things are in place. Go forth and destroy. A few still cling to small scraps of hope that something, something will stop this. Others are exhausted and discouraged by the declaration of the courts. I do not doubt that all of the "legal" factors are in place. However, I am saddened that humans are so willing to sell their souls to the false gods of money and convenience.

I make no call to action here. I don't care if I've convinced you one way or another. I simply bear witness. These photos were taken last week. It is early spring. Little is green at the wetlands now (although today all is covered with snow). You may think that this is not such an attractive place.

Look again. Look deeper. Look with the heart. Look with the soul. Witness the beauty.


Diane Goldsmith said...


i was very moved by your piece today on the wetlands. I too am a Kansan, but have lived in California since the '60s. Is there a petition to oppose this bypass? We can't let it happen.


Sandra M. Siebert said...

I don't know if there are anymore petitions. I am sure that there have been dozens of them in the past. This battle has gone on for years. Some efforts are underway to encourage the University of Kansas to give the portion of the wetlands that it owns to Haskell Indian Nations University, which would effectively block the bypass, but I don't know if it will carry. I think that those who have fought this for years and years are feeling defeated. If I hear of anything, I will post links here. Prayers, sending energy, however you do it, are about all that seems to be left right now.

Meggie said...

I totally get what you are saying. I have seen something similar where I live. They call it up-grading the highway, tearing apart areas that would normally have runoff water when it rains a lot. I don't understand why they feel the need to make these changes, when the water has run this direction forever. They came in with big trucks, moved dirt around, added concrete...all the while feeling proud of what they have done...and we, the taxpayers pay for it. I say leave things as they are!! You cannot tell me it will be for the better. What happens to the wildlife that lived there. I hope you can stop it in "Kansas".