Just about a year ago, I wrote a post called “Fifteen Things You Can Do When The World Is Shitty and Terrifying.” Last year, I was sad and angry about the death of Laquan MacDonald. I was outraged that a man with an assault rifle began to shoot up a Colorado Planned Parenthood. I was heartbroken about […]
by Albert Garcia
There should be a park bench.
We’ll sit next to each other,
watching a man throw a tennis ball
to his yellow lab, sending
and retrieving the dog
whose loyalty to task is clear
to both of them. I’ll say something
to start, something I’ve wanted
to say for years, words I’ve never before
been able to put together,
and you’ll hear them perfectly,
my words like a child’s wooden blocks
you can hold in your hands,
turning them for their modest gleam.
What you say comes as a breeze
that sinks in my skin,
not warm, not cool, just
what I needed to feel and hear,
like bath water, like tea. Then
we sit, and the dog
lopes out again to retrieve
his ball. The man waits
for what he knows is coming,
and the breeze, if there,
moves between us, back
and forth, silently.
It’s an ordinary September day.
My students are peer reviewing—a task I’ve labored to instill with meaning—and they seem to be engaging with purpose, as far as I can ascertain. There are windows in this room, a rarity in this 1960s building, and the light is blazing outside, playing with the still-green leaves whose trees cast long morning shadows across the campus lawn.
This work matters.
Fall is at hand.
For the moment, this is enough.
This is my second nationally published piece, this one actually printed in Yes! Magazine. There is something very special about seeing your name appear alongside those I have long admired. I hope it’s just the beginning. This piece was a work of the heart.
Walking through Rock Creek Canyon, Orton remembers his days as a city planner when this urban canyon was full of trash: junked autos, defunct washing machines, and tons of discarded tires and other refuse. “The idea that these wild areas are some place to dump stuff off has been around for a long time,” he says, shaking his head.
Orton also knows Rock Creek’s waters, which begin in the hills south of Twin Falls, pass through a smattering of farms, cattle ranches, and recreation areas, wind through the city and Rock Creek Park, and eventually empty into the Snake River. All this exists just blocks from the commercial center of downtown Twin Falls. “One reason I became enchanted with this place is that downtown is up there,” Orton explains, pointing to the canyon rim above, “but it is a totally different feel down here.”
To be inside Rock Creek Canyon is to hear birds, not traffic—it is to feel distinctly elsewhere. Three unmarked entrances and just one kitschy wagon-wheel sign mark Rock Creek’s walking trail and connected park below. Eighty-foot-deep basalt canyon walls frame the view of the 4-mile-long paved trail system, running mostly along the creek under a canopy of Russian olive, elm, ash, and cottonwood trees. Through this jagged swath of canyon cutting through southern Idaho’s Twin Falls County run mule deer, raccoons, Northern flickers, jays, Western tanagers, and yellow-bellied marmots.
While the initial cleanup efforts in the 1970s left the canyon looking pristine, upon closer scrutiny, Rock Creek Canyon tells a far different story. Rock Creek is emblematic of a common environmental problem: an urban wild space neglected by local residents who advocate protecting such spaces elsewhere. Here in Twin Falls, many people ignore Rock Creek but are eager to drive 40 miles south to the Shoshone Basin region or 75 miles north to the Sun Valley area for hiking, mountain biking, and skiing.
Revitalization efforts to bring about change in neglected urban wild areas, watersheds in particular, can be seen throughout the country. The Spokane River, running directly through Spokane, Washington, still has some of the highest levels of pollution in the state, despite the addition of the beautiful Riverfront Park. Frankford Creek in Philadelphia suffers from outdated sewer pipes and storm water overflow, but the city is undergoing a long-term plan to broadly improve its infrastructure. And the Patapsco River in Baltimore is one of several waterways where volunteers are encouraged to participate in “Canoe and Scoop” days to help clean up the impaired Chesapeake Watershed. Then there is the famous Los Angeles River, where an ambitious comprehensive plan exists to remove concrete channels and restore the natural riparian areas running through the city.
The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has declared Rock Creek “impaired,” meaning its water is too polluted for “beneficial” uses, such as swimming and fishing. Runoff from agriculture upstream combines with the effects of recreational use, industrial effluent, and a number of unmapped septic systems discharging directly to the creek. Graffiti regularly appears on the foundations of the three bridges spanning the canyon, and trash lingers under Old Towne Bridge, a throwback to the days of Rock Creek as city dump. Many residents call the canyon a “working creek.”
So when it comes time to get outdoors, many of those same residents head out of town.
Erica Pfister and family have been traveling to the Sun Valley area for the past six years to hike, bike, and ski. “It’s just so accessible,” Pfister explains. The area has plenty of trails, natural beauty, and restaurant options, she adds, which makes the more-than-hour-long drive north worth it. “It’s so pretty up there, and you can see wildlife—you feel like you really are in the middle of nature,” she says.
According to The Nature Conservancy in Idaho, each year an estimated 300 to 500 residents of the Twin Falls area travel the roughly 60 miles to Silver Creek Preserve, a pristine location with Nature Conservancy protection and some of the most coveted fishing waters in the United States. During the summer months, heavy traffic out of Twin Falls clogs the roads to the Shoshone Basin and the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness.
This dichotomy is one that noted environmental historian William Cronon discusses in his essay “The Trouble with Wilderness.” Cronon takes issue with wilderness as a human construct, resulting in a conceptual divide between an idealized, distant wilderness and other wild spaces such as those existing in communities and backyards.
As long as wilderness is an ideal that exists someplace else, residents may feel absolved of responsibility to steward the wild spaces within their own communities. In Twin Falls, industrious visionaries in the late 1880s transformed the southern Idaho desert into its regional nickname, the Magic Valley. Until 1960, Rock Creek Canyon served as a city sewer run, emptying directly into the Snake River. Factories also moved in, dumping post-production effluent into the creek. Three factories remain on the canyon rim: one meat processing plant and two vegetable/potato processors. These factories cement a connection between business and creek, a familiar story associated with American industrial expansion.
However, changes may be on the horizon for Rock Creek Canyon. The Magic Valley Trail Enhancement Committee (MaVTEC), organized in 2007, has been working to create trails and connect existing ones throughout the area. With the group’s primary goal of the Snake River Canyon Rim Trail almost complete, director Jaime Tigue says efforts will shift toward Rock Creek Canyon, enhancing trail usability while raising public awareness and interest.
“Rock Creek has been on our radar for a long time,” says Tigue. “It’s such an important asset to this community that often gets overlooked.” MaVTEC is exploring options for purchasing privately owned property that separates two current Rock Creek Canyon trails. The committee hopes to join the trails, eventually connecting them with the now separate Snake River Canyon Rim Trail.
MaVTEC’s work represents a potential paradigm shift: a community focusing on utilizing, preserving, and enjoying the natural spaces within its urban environment. Dayna Gross, senior conservation manager for The Nature Conservancy in Idaho, says this shift is part of the organization’s new mission—working with natural urban areas while embodying “respect for people, communities, and cultures.” Gross sees this hybrid of wild spaces and humanity as a new vision—conservation that acknowledges a broader definition of preservation, including the wild spaces we live within, in addition to those “out there.”
Restoring Rock Creek Canyon requires altering community perceptions and attitudes. It also raises the question: Can a place shake its history? This call for change is universal—community neighbors must begin looking deeply at the core values framing everyday lives. As nurturing wild urban spaces becomes part of the community fabric, the separation between the natural and human-made may begin to dissolve, and a new definition of progress, prosperity, and preservation may emerge. Acting in this consciousness today is to begin—right exactly where we find ourselves.
Before filters and faceswaps, film ruled the day. For these photographers, it still does.
I am humbled and thrilled to be published by Yes! Magazine. Originally, I queried a story appealing to my dissertation work–a story on Rock Creek, the urban wild space that has captured my imagination, fueling a look at why natural urban spaces are often overlooked and neglected. Rock Creek is a gem, and the article I’ve completed for Yes! will appear in the summer 2016 issue. I am proud of it–it accurately portrays the Rock Creek story, and connects to other such marginalized spaces in the nation. It also calls for personal action, asking citizens to begin looking at these spaces and how they live their lives around them.
The editors contacted me and asked if I had printed a little piece I sent as a writing example, one I had written about a neighborhood soup night. Yes! published it to their website several weeks ago, and apparently, the piece resonated, as I have received emails and the comment thread on the Yes! Facebook site is rich with people’s responses about doing similar things in their own neighborhoods or finding inspiration to initiate such an event. I am so grateful. How sweet it is to have this piece published in the perfect magazine and to receive such surprising, affirming response.
I supply a link to the piece here. Perhaps it will provide some gentle encouragement to connect with your own community.
This is my favorite holiday.
Why? Because it requires so little of us.
Thanksgiving asks us to host others or show up and contribute to a beautiful meal. There is no commercial gift exchange required, and for this reason alone, Thanksgiving stands at the top of my list of holidays. I love to cook for those I love, and the preparation of an elaborate meal fuels me. This year, there will be no cable television, but I do plan to extend the meal longer—a three course offering encouraging my guests to linger a bit longer and visit, to leave those dirty dishes, to have another piece of pie, to tell another story, to enjoy the jazz in the kitchen. My daughter has worked out the table decorations and the dishware, and there will be a mix of family and friends sharing my space.
Welcome, day of gratitude. Let me extend the sentiment in unlimited ways.