The Living Forest Body

The Living Forest Body

by Obi Kaufmann

What is a Forest? A terrestrial forest is a living network process of ecological functions whose health revolves around cycles of succession, as dictated by the fire regime as negotiated by the woody plants present. A forest is also a discreet physiographic area, within one or spread over many watersheds, defined by one or more keystone species of woody plant that principally governs the primary biogeochemical cycles presently sustaining the localized ecology. The first definition describes a forest by its relationship to fire, while the second describes a forest by its relationship with water. Both definitions necessarily include the presence of woody plants. Woody plants are vascular, perennial, botanicals that most often includes trees, shrubs and vines (but can also include cactus, e.g. Joshua Tree and Saguaro) who all produce wood (or similarly fibrous material) as their structural core.

 

The forest-body can be modeled as a single entity and should be thought of as alive itself. The life cycle of the forest is not fundamentally different than the mortal and corporeal life cycle our own bodies experience. Every forest is a single, biochemical system containing a multitudinous plethora of relationships between biological functionaries whose collective industry measurably dictates the health of the system. The ecosystem that is the forest-type is dependent on thousands of unique and specialized exchanges between energetic units that have evolved over millions of years in an adaptive cycle of growth, conservation, release and reorganization.

Terrestrial forests of every type exist everywhere and are all dependent upon both fire and water cycles to maintain and feed different, vital components at different stages of the adaptive cycle. A forest is not an orchard, nor is a suburban development with lots of trees, and an urban forest is not a forest. A kelp forest is an aquatic ecosystem bound to a different set of resource cycles that the terrestrial forest is not. A forest can exist within many different scales of biodiversity, from the relatively simple to the extremely complex. Temperate and low-lying forests tend toward more complexity and niche redundancy given nutrient abundancies and the general mildness of climate, while arid and alpine forests tend toward reduced quantities of speciation and biomass given more stringent conditions. The sheer amount of photosynthesis and evapotranspiration that takes place within any one of the world’s major forests radically influences water and climate patterns across the planetary atmosphere.

Forests all exhibit strata of life categories, sub-ecosystems that interact with other levels of the forest to varying degrees. These strata may include 1) subterranean and soil systems of mycorrhizal, nutrient-delivery 2) Floor habitat, surface mulch, under growth, and where liquid water may be present 3) an understory that may be of an entirely different character than the canopy – in dense, temperate forests, understory trees and shrubs may contain broad leaves to catch more sunlight filtered through the canopy trees above, 4) a canopy that may represent the most, total living space in the forest, where the dominant, or keystone species expresses its fullest capacity to produce, and 5) the emergent layer where exceptional species may poke through the canopy’s shaded ceiling to take advantage of the unhindered light above.

The function of the adaptive cycle within all forests is the tendency towards equilibrium. Equilibrium is best thought of as a homeostasis between nutrient expenditure, production and management within the ecosystem. Forests exist and thrive within their own strategic set of time and space-based operations based on the different qualities of their keystone trees. At different stages of the adaptive cycle, or after surviving many successive turns around the adaptive cycle, a forest might exhibit different qualities of character that can be described many ways. A climax forest is a forest that has remained undisturbed by invasiveness or fire for a period long enough for the dominant, climax species of tree to perhaps be vulnerable to one of the many triggers of succession, i.e. a closed canopy that amounts to an invitation of pioneering, shade-tolerant plants that begin to crowd saplings and begin the process from succession to conversion. An old growth forest is a forest that has attained an equilibrium such that the relationships across the complete spectrum of trophic interaction within the ecosystem are minimally affected by any given, naturally occurring disturbance and may have existed unchanged for millennia. Second growth forests are forests that have been harvested for timber and do not exhibit the qualities of habitat abundance and niche opportunities that define old growth.

Between us and our conceptualization of what a forest is, there are layers of meaning that at once inform and interrupt our better understanding of it. On an evolutionary level, have developed our brains on the savannah over a period of millions of years, we have a hard time with forests. They aren’t very good areas of food production for us and having long ago traded in our primate-ability to climb trees, we feel vulnerable. We have built our civilization by using the so-called renewable energy of the forest, thinking it an infinite well of fuel and timber, while not accounting for the many subtle functions that these large organs of the biosphere take care of routinely. The restoration and immediate cessation of all old-growth logging must be a priority of our species. The preservation of the biodiversity in the world’s last, untouched forests may be directly linked to the larger living network across the planet that sustains us.  A forest is not an object, it is a network-process of relationships that exhibits such a resemblance to a single-living entity that it seems to breathe, react, think, reproduce, strategize, move, die, and if we are wise and open enough, we can discern its ability to express love.

Cycles in Geographic Literacy

Look at nature enough and cycles begin to dominate. Folding back in, recycling, reforming and being spat back out in some transformed configuration is the closed course of all elemental function. All energetic-source vectors follow in the shape of the globe and head far off toward some vector of their own invention and momentum to only come back around again. Ecologists describe energy as a consumable force that is unidirectional – a giving momentum from one trophic level to the next until it is spent. The spending of energy is better thought of as a release of constituent components, mineral and abiotic units that are always recycled and used again.

In my work, I examine the relationship between art and science, which in my mind is the play between meaning and truth and apply that research to one object-field-system of study: California. The course of my study is mechanically, a puzzle of endless depth, width and breadth despite the topographic finiteness of the land area itself. The end of my work is societal atonement with California’s natural world; an equilibrium between human extraction and replenishment based on more-than-knowledge, but a deep understanding rooted in love to protect and restore. To give back the gift.

I have a lot of faith in the idea of Geographic literacy, but I have a hard time pinning down exactly what it is. It is certainly not only the rote ability to read a map. It is more than the ability of being able to read the land. It is more than knowing what is where. Geographic literacy is wrapped up in the qualitative function of how – how do systems relate and support life.

Let’s go with that: Geographic Literacy is the interdisciplinary study and appreciation of living patterns across a specific landscape. Geographic literacy is not only the study of ecology, the study of the relationship between biotic and abiotic forces, but the understanding of how macro-networks of a given province (be it a watershed, a fireshed, a carbonshed, a viewshed) are influenced by physiography, hydrology, climate, soil, pollution and other elemental, shaping forces that influence biodiversity at any moment on the ecosystem’s adaptive cycle, its successive life cycle.

All living networks share the same adaptive cycle regardless of scale. New growth always evolves into mature forms of conservation within the system-body. This inevitably leads to the release of stored energy at the opposite side of the diagram from the generation of it. The decimation releases resources that makes way for the reorganization of those structures that define the function of the system itself and extend through time to both the beginning and the end of terrestrial life.

note: this diagram of my own invention is a symbolic approximation of a very complex and subtle system-cycles, collectively known as the biogeochemical cycles. The most misleading aspect of this diagram is the idea that these recycling systems move in linear narrative or a consistent arch, when actually the cycles reconfigure themselves from multiple origin points to multiple chemical outcomes.

The characters at play in this drama do not change, although the scenarios they exist in, namely the rate of change in ecosystem quantities at scale does. Through the abiotic theaters of life on earth: the lithosphere (earth), the hydrosphere (water) and the atmosphere (air), biogeochemical cycles run their endless loops. The runners of these loops are the nutrients themselves: carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, oxygen and sulfur are the big ones.

The major abiotic ecological cycles
  1. The Carbon cycle describes the process by which carbon enters the atmosphere (in the form of Carbon Dioxide) through respiration and combustion and is then reabsorbed biologically through photosynthesis and passed along through the cycle by consumption of plants. It is important because photosynthesis (sugar derived in plants through sun-energy) is the source of all ecology and Carbon Dioxide is necessary in the formula for plants to produce sugar.
Carbon Geography: Carbon exists in the ecosystem in locations called Stores (oceans, forest, and such). The Store can either be a Sink (absorbing more carbon than it gives off), or a Source (giving off more carbon than it absorbs.)
  1. The Nitrogen cycle describes the process by which atmospheric Nitrogen becomes available to ecosystems to produce and decompose. The first step in this extracting atmospheric Nitrogen is bacterial. Bacteria transform nitrogen into Ammonia to make it available for plants in a step called Assimilation. Plants and animals use ammonia to make amino acids and DNA, i.e. growth. When the plant or animal dies, ammonification is how bacteria collect the nitrogen for reuse. Denitrification is the reduction of the nitrogen back to gas.
Nitrogen Geography: Ecosystems and biodiversity increase with nitrogen fertilization, but a tipping point occurs when Nitrogen saturation is attained and begins to damage all biological processes. The process of Nitrogen Pollution is a positive feedback cycle that cause decreased biodiversity and extensive eutrophication in fresh and saltwater systems.
  1. The Nutrient cycle describes the process by which all life-in-matter within the ecosystem is produced. The Nutrient cycle encompasses aspects of all the mineral cycles: Carbon, Nitrogen, Sulfur, Phosphorus, Oxygen and water and requires an equilibrium of these other cycles to efficiently produce healthy ecosystems. Biomass becomes litter which decomposes and with rock, becomes soil. Soil produces plant and life to again become biomass.
Nutrient Geography: 100% of all energy and nutrients is any ecosystem is used again and again indefinitely. This closed loop recycling is always dependent on 1) the protection of biodiversity 2) Access to renewable energy and 3) the recycling of plants.
  1. The Oxygen cycle describes the process, by which photosynthesis as its main agent transports oxygen between the atmosphere and the biosphere. Photosynthesis is responsible for most of the atmosphere’s free oxygen, or that oxygen not locked up in water and other chemicals. Oxygen is also cycled through the Biosphere and the lithosphere through the weathering of calcium carbonate shells of marine organisms.
Oxygen Geography: Atmospheric oxygen has led to the formation of the ozone layer which protect all terrestrial life from ultraviolet radiation and affords the biosphere its current habitable condition.
  1. The Phosphorus cycle is the process by which Phosphorus, a key-component to building biomolecules is processed through rocks and minerals and utilized by biologic agents. As in the Nitrogen cycle, mycorrhizal fungi broker phosphorus between soil and plants in exchange for sugar.
Phosphorus Geography: an over-abundance of Phosphorus in a marine or freshwater ecosystem will cause a choking bloom of algae, which leads to quicker rates of eutrophication. Phosphorus rarely occurs in a gas form but exists in the earth and thereby makes this cycle, by existing on the geologic timeline, the longest, potential timeframe for a revolution of any of the major mineral cycles.
  1. The Sulphur cycle, in terms of its ecological relevance, is the process by which this essential element, used in the production of proteins is recycled through plant uptake, or used by plants in its atmospheric form, Sulphur Dioxide and then returned to the earth through plant residue and other biosolids.
Sulfur Geography: the amount of Sulphur in the atmosphere always increases because of volcanic activity and the human burning of coal. Sulphur is intrinsic in the production of Fossil Fuels. When Sulfur is released through the burning of fossil fuels it enters the water cycle and transforms rain water to a pH level of 4.3 or lower, acid rain.
  1. The Rock cycles describes how magma from the crust crystallizes to become igneous rocks on the surface. Erosion than transforms those rocks by means of sedimentation into sedimentary rocks. The processes of plate tectonics, by means of tectonic burials, transform those rocks into metamorphic rocks by means of melting back to magma.
Rock Geography: called geology, is the study of the components of all land-type constituents and their chemical make-up across topographies.
  1. Also called the Hydrologic cycle, is the process by which liquid water condenses into the atmosphere by the processes of evaporation and evapotranspiration (the breathing of plants) to come back to the earth in the form of precipitation.
Water Geography: physiographic processes that are included in the water cycle are volcanic steam, sublimation (ice becoming steam without becoming liquid), desublimation (atmospheric water becoming ice without becoming liquid), surface runoff, fog drip, ice and snow, snowmelt runoff, soil infiltration, groundwater flow, groundwater storage, streamflow, freshwater, plant uptake, dew, springs, seepage, flora and fauna, vents and volcanoes and oceans.

Ascribing power of self-generation and renewal, or purpose, to a natural system is to see that system as alive – a being unto itself. Or at least, this reach to understanding set some parameters to better understand our role in the functioning of that system. If all natural systems are living systems, the moral perspective shifts and we become responsible to recognize our integral relationship to it. Systems of nature are now legally considered property: resources and commodities. The economics that we’ve built around this system of law – capitalism – depends on the myth of resource scarcity, it is the driving force of supply, demand, investment and return. I am not decrying the evils of our legal system or even capitalism itself, I don’t have a prescription about how it will play out. I am suggesting that when we shift the perspective, when the paradigm begins to slip, when we see the world as a living thing that exists in cycles of rebirth and redefinition, we see our own society susceptible to the same kind of evolution. And then, we can begin to talk about how the land sustains and renews itself – we move from the realm of scarcity into the realm of plenty.

Blazing a New Trail

Obi Kaufmann in his Oakland studio, shot by @thisismaiphotography for @clutchmagazinejapan.

Review By Paul Saffo.

John Muir would have loved “The California Field Atlas,” a compellingly poetic exploration of the living environment of his beloved adopted state. Muir famously observed that, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” The “Field Atlas” is organized around the deep interconnections of life, geography and climate, echoing Muir’s intuition. As author Obi Kaufmann writes in his introduction, “I want to coax this single piece of the universe into opening up its secrets.”

Like Muir, both Kaufmann and his “Field Atlas” defy categorization. Muir was a naturalist, writer, geologist, botanist, inventor, engineer and environmentalist. Kaufman is a painter, poet, topographer, natural historian, activist and one-time tattoo artist who happens to have a love of science and a knack for calculus. Oh, and he’s a clothing designer, too (he’s selling a nifty tweed field coat straight from the 19th century). Like Muir, Kaufmann is a passionate hiker and explorer of California’s back country. “Field Atlas” draws from Kaufmann’s watercolors, maps and writings assembled over 20 years of his explorations.

The result is a book I can’t quite describe — and also can’t put down. And I am not alone; the entire 8,000-copy first printing of “Field Atlas” sold out in a matter of weeks after its November release, no small feat for a book that weighs two pounds and costs $45. A second printing was rushed out even as copies were being resold online for prices ranging from $145 to $1,500.

It is clear what this book is not. It is chockful of critter illustrations, but it most definitely is not a wildlife guide. The maps in the “Field Atlas” put trails front and center, but lack the detail to help a backpacker recover from a missed turn. “Field Atlas” is too heavy to carry on a day hike, much less on a through-hike on the Muir Trail. It is also too general to advise a hiker wondering about the name of a peak on the horizon or how to identify a bird flitting around a campsite. And, by the way, there is not a single road depicted on any map in the “Field Atlas,” so don’t count on it to help you get from home to your favorite trailhead.

This is a book about systems. Its chapters are organized around systems: of water and rivers, of wind and weather, of fire and forests, of deserts and wildlife. Humans are not excluded, but the “Field Atlas” exhibits a certain ambiguity regarding the human presence in California. Kaufmann notes that humans have been present in California for at least 15,000 years and expresses the expectation that they will be present for at least another 15,000 years. An entire chapter of the “Field Atlas” is devoted to a county-level description of California’s natural environment. But one cannot escape the sense that Kaufmann would be happier if everyone who headed toward California after 1530 had turned back.

The “Field Atlas” is a book best read at home while contemplating the subtle interdependencies of California’s wildlands or planning one’s next backpacking trip. It will also fit nicely in a glove compartment, at the ready to reveal the deep story behind the landscape on the other side of the windshield. The “Field Atlas” won’t help the lost find their way home, but it might lead them to realize they were never lost to begin with.

There is one question I can’t shake. Is the “Field Atlas” a one-off, or the first exemplar of a new genre? I suspect that it is the latter, a tome that will inspire others to follow the trail Kaufmann has blazed. California has a proud history of birthing new environmental genres, including the legendary “California Water Atlas” (published in 1979) and the extraordinary series of coffee table books published by the Sierra Club in the late 1960s, which individually led to the creation of new national monuments and collectively helped launch the modern environmental movement. Leafing through Kaufmann’s “Field Atlas,” I can’t help but wonder who it will inspire and what will follow. 

Page 159 of Clutch Magazine Japan, June 2018 – the first inprint mention of the California Lands Trilogy – coming 2019

 

 

The Field Atlas – Focusing the Creative Intent

When I started to write the first Field Atlas, the California Field Atlas, the only strategy I had was to pull as many maps together as I could to see what patterns might fall out. There were two major hemispheres of work in the creation of the world that is the Field Atlas: the drafting followed by the editing. Analyzing these modes, these creative environments is key to understanding not only how this book got made, but how the process might be replicated, or at least re-approached.

The Field Atlas is not a Field Guide. The Field Atlas works in the context of natural history but is not a document of natural history. Field guides are tools to describe the what of something, not the how. What is a question of object, how is a question of system. Systems thinking is the level of conceptualization that the Field Atlas works best at. How do the underlying, elemental, shaping forces of the largely abiotic forces in any given ecosystem, on whatever scale, coalesce and interact to create the physical and chemical geography of that ecosystem.

The Field Atlas cannot be separated from its art. If it were it would not be the Field Atlas. Ultimately, this work is literary contrivance, not a scientific one and there are two, primary reasons for this: one is the nature of consensus, and the other is the nature of invention. Where it might seem that an editor is like a peer-review, they are not. Scientists do not have the luxury of creative license. On a pure level, the scientist can only react to measured data, while the artist (or the Field Atlas author more specifically) is shielded by vocation to extrapolate whatever derivations work toward the harmonious execution of the piece.

It might be that the Field Atlas’ greatest success its singular presentation of California as the subject, perhaps even a symbolic metaphor, of and about my love for the natural world, and the blending of that effort with one that is at its core, data-driven. The Field Atlas works to integrate the humanities and the sciences on a geographic scale and that is the philosophical sphere of meaning. One of the most notable features of the Field Atlas is what it doesn’t feature: Humanity. There are towns and the occasional border, road, facility, et al. but they are mostly there for orientation, not for context. Humanity is a secondary character, analogous to a fire or a flood – a maker of scars that will heal across the land-body once the source of the infliction moves on.

When putting together the first draft of the California Field Atlas, I didn’t know what core systems I wanted to describe. Earth, Air, Fire and Water – the core organization of the book’s first half, describe the most empirical subjects in the book. Those classifications did not come about until late in the drafting process. I see now, there is a shift, albeit a subtle one, in thematic tone from the first five chapters of the book and the last five. Not just in nature of content, but in editorialized attitude. Chapters six through nine (not including chapters one and ten, really as they represent bookends for the larger piece) act almost as appendices to the first half. Even the big chapter on counties, chapter nine, seems like it takes California and divides it up into almost arbitrary jigsaw pieces, and from those pieces, I take what I please and leave the rest.

This process, of inventing geography, of playing with cartographic power, of manipulating boundaries not based on core-ecological systems, but contemporary political zonations, isn’t necessarily a negative. Ultimately, my plan as described by the two presumptions at the front of the book (paraphrased: 1. All natural systems are living systems, and 2. There is both a scientific and an artistic agenda at work) serve this course. I set out to make a new genre: The Field Atlas. The success of that genre will ultimately be determined in an almost Darwinian manner, its reproducibility. As I venture to make the next books – The California Lands Trilogy, HEYDAY BOOKS, 2019 – I am advantaged with being able to leverage this hindsight and liberated in being now able to exploit the higher functioning aspects of my work to reveal ever deeper cycles of geographic ecology. – Obi Kaufmann, Author of the California Field Atlas.

to purchase a personalized copy of the CALIFORNIA FIELD ATLAS directly from the author, go to californiafieldatlas.com.

A New Vision for Restoring the Hetch Hetchy Valley

The following presentation was made at the Restore Hetch Hetchy fundraising event at the Berkeley City Club on Saturday, March 17th, 2018 by Obi Kaufmann:

Making good sense of anything in these long days of miasmic political gridlock seems Herculean, or maybe Sisyphean – pick your ancient myth, or more probably in this crowd, your tragedy. The compass spins and any orientation to such basic civic discourse about what is reasonable? What is compassionate? What is ethical? is lost to the ceaseless torpor of argument. We are gathered here tonight to support RESTORE HETCH HETCHY, and I believe with all my heart that this project is the jewel in the crown of a new majestic day for California – the bravest opportunity to present to the whole world the gift of an emancipated Hetch Hetchy as a symbol of who we are, as Californians, and in our most solemn posture to present a unity of identity – one that understands that all the rights we enjoy are met with equal responsibilities. Despite the daily tweeting of old hearted, corporate mouth pieces who sow conflict, we continue our march toward a new reality. A reality whereby putting aside some indulgences of consumerist modernity, with its artificial contrivances of the red versus blue disparity, and we take to investing in great acts of restoration, we will continue our state’s legacy of standing up for what is right and in doing what just makes plain, good sense.

In truth, this obfuscating cloud that spews from professional politics and media punditry is something that we’ve all been sold, and we have all willingly bought. Those who continue to sell us that refrain of endless calamity and unrest are beginning to make some unwise moves in their game against us in their drive for endless profit. An almost seismic event has occurred and continues its up thrust right now through the bedrock of what it is to be a Californian, today, in the last days of winter, 2018. Like the Sierra Nevada and its 200-million-year quest skyward to wrestle its westward slope into an isolated paradise, a move that set California toward its own evolution of endemic identity, we are taking back what it is to be unified as Californians. I’ve been on book tour for the past six months and I’ve seen it from San Diego, to Fresno, to Quincy, to Arcata – we are waking up to the responsibilities that complement every single right that we enjoy, living in this, the most beautiful of all the world’s corners.

The California Field Atlas, my first major publication, has now sat in the number one bestseller position for paperback nonfiction across Northern California for ten weeks. In this reference book of several hundred of my hand-painted maps of the what I call the living networks of earth, air, fire and water, I present an inventory of conservation based on my five decades of hiking, dreaming, sweating, loving, and living in the state of my birth. If I could draw a hundred maps a day of California for the rest of my life, I would still be unable to tell the whole story that I want to tell, I could not sing all of California’s song of glory. I will go as far as I can: I’ve just signed into contract with HEYDAY books for the making of three more Field Atlases, to be called the California Lands Trilogy – the Forests of California will be here in the Fall of 2019 and then the Coasts of California and lastly the Desert of California will come a year after. Before I could get to those books, books that will go into unprecedented detail about the natural world of California – where it has been, where it continues, and where it will always be despite our successfully implemented, urban and agricultural veneer – I had a fourth book in me that needed to come out first: THE STATE OF WATER – a conservation Field Atlas to California’s most precious resource, and it will come out next spring.

I needed to get this book out first because 1) I needed to get it right in my mind and heart and 2) the world of California water deserves a new manifesto; how humans use California water can be terribly confusing as it exists in a labyrinth of convoluted allocations that are certainly, intentionally circuitous. I madly took it on myself to present a democratized reference book for the lay-person. I was talking with my editor about the book the other day, when we decided that it would come out next spring, and he suggested that I might need amend it, given how quickly the news changes these days. I told him that I am not going to need to – for those of us who study California water and California climate, and as it is, the idea behind my pending book: the next one hundred years are going to go one way and new water projects (of which we’ve got four proposed: 1. The Sites Project in the Sacramento Valley’s northwest corner 2. The Millennium Dam on the overtaxed Bear River 3. Temperance Flat on the San Joaquin and 4. The Governor’s so-called Water Fix – the Delta tunnels, or tunnel as it stands now) are not going to help. With one time-tested concept, we can enjoy the three pillars of water use (1. Agricultural, 2. Municipal and 3. Environmental) in this state long into the future – that concept is conservation. In THE STATE OF WATER, I take the seven key examples of how we have divvied California’s waterscape, how we dole it out, and even suggest a moderate plan for working it into a more efficient version of itself to better serve 22nd century needs.

Number one, I discuss the remove of the four dams on the Klamath river and its implications toward the recovery of our salmon populations. Number two, I discuss the Sacramento River, the dangerous, aging infrastructure of its tributaries and how an illegal move to raise the Shasta Dam by 18 feet should be met with fierce resistance. Number three, I discuss the San Joaquin River Restoration Project and how because of its efforts, we witnessed spring run Chinook Salmon spawn south of Friant dam for the first time in 60 years. Number four, I discuss the State water and the Central Valley projects as a networked system, who uses it and how we might be able to trim several million-acre feet from its per annum usage based on conservation technologies and practices. Number five, I discuss the Colorado River and the playground policies that govern its straggled and diminishing flow. Number six, I call the Salton Sea our State’s number one mess – our single most costly and important remediation emergency. And then number seven, unique in all the history of California Water, I call for the restoration of Hetch Hetchy Valley as the most symbolically important restoration project on the table today.

I foresee O’Shaughnessy Dam breached in my lifetime. I see San Franciscans embracing the water security offered by an already augmented San Pedro Dam, while rejecting the modicum of power offered by the three existing powerhouses upriver from San Pedro as falsely green as they have already been rejected as being ineligible for Governor Brown’s 2045 clean power mandate. I see San Francisco reclaiming its title, its identity as a truly green city, perhaps the first, historically self-identified green city, by throwing off this hypocrisy that it has lazily enjoyed for so long. I see the National Park Service supporting a no-brainer investment towards a pending windfall with this now uncovered treasure. Most importantly, in the restoration of Hetch Hetchy, I see the exciting work of hope kindled in a citizenry unafraid and un-shy to take back its legacy, uniting in a single voice to this keystone moment, indicative even of greater things to come.

I told my editor when we were talking about the book that one of the reasons that within two years, we won’t need a new amendment to the factual statements in the book, I thought of two metaphors – 1) that constantly paying mind to the deafening cycles of media news is akin to listening to the chatter of termites, behavior that might drive the bear mad were she not able to get to them. And 2) that we are talking about moving rivers – deep, long-cut entrenchments in the most incalcitrant landscapes of our society, and moving rivers takes time. One day you find that your maps are outdated, that public paradigms have pushed the old fences out to disfunction and we are then made free to enjoy the new freedoms of a restored landscape, both inner and outer, towards our relationship with each other, with the land and towards both the past and the future.

It is going to take a lot of work, but we are Californians and we are not afraid of work. I would like to offer one last metaphor before my parting words and I would like to offer it as a toast. Please raise you glass. Reaching the top of the mountain is a mixed victory, from up here we can see how far we have come, and yet we can also see how far we have to go. To all the mountain tops. Cheers.

I will leave you tonight with a brief poem I wrote backpacking the high country in Yosemite last year. I post a poem nearly every day, along with a painting or a picture of the landscape that I am in at COYOTETHUNDER on instagram.

It has been a hundred years that my heart was buried in the still water. Every evening at sunset I see a thousand cranes rise from the reservoir and on their wings, the valley empties. In the morning, the bear’s dream of their return with sapphire eyes uncut on salmon’s tooth. In a thousand years, the liquid granite will begin to forget the thirst stains marring the holy bowl across the outstretched song of the river, beneath the arboreal pulse of the restored place that was meant for sky, not flood.

Restore Hetch Hetchy, painted by Obi Kaufmann

Protecting the California Desert /// ANZA BORREGO DESERT STATE PARK

(note: below is an exerpt I gave to the ANZA BORREGO FOUNDATION gathering on March 3rd, 2018 in Borrego Springs, California. Scroll past that to read the transcript of my interview with KPBS in San Diego, regarding my visit to the desert and the California Field Atlas -Obi Kaufmann)

Obi Kaufmann on stage in Borrego Springs, March 2018
    • 1. Touching the sun in green and gold across the perfect angle of the creeping bajada on its one hundred thousandth birthday, with the equally ancient ocotillo-spire forest on its back, where all things move slow and even the crows hold a Pleistocene countenance.
  • Rain falling on the San Ysidro Mountains, Anza Borrego, spring 2018

    2. I feel returned to an older, more-quiet version of the human that is me. All the trapping saturations of my digital life desiccate quickly in the protected wind. I can hear what can be called the voice of ancestors – the gleaning of the human time-scale brushing against the geologic.

  • Poster, designed by Obi Kaufmann, now available at the Anza Borrego Foundation website, http://www.abf.org

    3. We carry into our future, after a century and a half in this place at least as many responsibilities as we do rights. This is our charge. We have the right to extract, but we have the responsibility to replenish. We have the right to develop, but we have the responsibility to restore. We have the right to occupy, but we have the responsibility to set aside. Stewardship is the active management of leaving the more-than-human world to its own functioning device.

    dawn across the Borrego Valley, San Diego county.

    4. The parade of challenges before us and this desert, from within and without is an easy course in despair. Indulging in such postures is not our luxury. Whether addressing a shrinking water table, water policy and conveyance itself, cripplingly expensive environmental remediation – tended to or not, or the machinations of bullying politicians and business men forwarding ecologically costly agendas, we shall push back, we shall abide. We shall do so because everywhere here we see treasure – its value glints off every, yellow creosote flower and in the wealth of distant coyote song that we hold in our walking bones. In its unlimited grace, the Sonora welcomes our respect and we have the right to protect the desert and we have the responsibility to protect the desert.

    Grapevine Canyon, Anza Borrego Desert State Park

    5. It was 11,000 years ago today that we killed the last mammoth and at that point, the 6th extinction (a planetary event caused by the coming of the modern homo sapiens) had been underway for 50,000 years. But now that all the systems associated with exponential population growth are beginning to exhibit bacterial patterns, we still hold our mammalian core and the philosophical apotheosis of that rise from consciousness, is choice. Here today and every day, we pledge to choose to protect and preserve and to restore these unbroken moments in our legacy landscape; we acknowledge that resource stores of endemic biodiversity, like the Colorado desert, deserve the greatest protection we can afford because this is our best bet – we have a real chance to do so, of leaving the 21st century in better shape than we left the 20th.

    Obi Kaufmann at Yaqui Pass

    6. If this is our age, let’s pull together our tools and our trust to make it grand enough, inclusive enough and resilient enough to hold, maintain and provide for our continued human residency for another ten-thousand years. Let’s allow our conversation to flow down that river in common praise for the California Floristic Province and at the confluence, welcome all wise and productive input, because the future is just as beautiful as we want it to be and our grandchildren’s grandchildren will thank us for the loving and trusting vision. <—>

 

February 28, 2018 4:36 p.m.

‘The California Field Atlas’ Is A Love Story To The State

GUEST:

Obi Kaufmann, author and illustrator, “The California Field Atlas”

Related Story: ‘The California Field Atlas’ Is A Love Story To The State

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors. To listen to the interview, link here. 

Maureen >> This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. It took a lifetime of traveling, camping, climbing, hiking, and loving California, to produce a comprehensive and amazing field guide to the state, it provides a wealth of information, as varied as maps of rivers and trails, geological faults, and mount line habitat, in addition to the facts and figures, it offers original sketches and watercolors on every page. It is called a love story, by the author, Obi Kaufman, author of the California field Atlas. Welcome.

Obi > Thank you.

Maureen >> At the beginning, you caution this is generally not able to sit down with and read, so how should it be used?

Obi > I would love if people would try to do that, but it is a very special person that is going to read this book from cover to cover, it is a reference manual, that I hope, I believe now, is unique. In that it is a field Atlas, which is the genre that I made up to describe a larger character of California, the natural world of California, that has always been here, continues to persist, and will always persist despite the veneer that we have imposed on California over the natural world, so successfully in the 21st century.

Maureen >> How would you describe the California field Atlas?

Obi > The first thing that you will notice probably as opposed to other atlases, there are no roads. I don’t draw a single row to my Atlas, that is because it doesn’t really fit the story. A road is just the shortest length between some human point a and human point be, right? — Human point A, and human point B, right? A watercourse, natural contours, there is a story there that is much more interesting. This Atlas is not going to help you if you are lost in the woods, either, that is not what this is about, this is about describing the larger natural forces in California, how they work across the state, and that is why it is divided up, the first few chapters, between earth, air, fire and water, the big orienting and shaping forces that I’m looking to describe.

Maureen >> Do you think most Californians realize how diverse the state is in terms of wildlife and landscape?

Obi > I think they do, or their waking up to it, I’ve been unable to her for for five months, what I’m seeing from Crescent City to San Diego and back, this electric network of people of people who are ready for this nature first kind of narrative, I think that is so inspiring, to me, almost as if we are yearning to be counted as part of California’s people as if we want to stand up and say, we belong to this land, it does not belong to us, it is almost like a paradigm shift, and I’m happy to see unfolding.

Maureen >> I am told that the state park holds a special place for you?

Obi > It does, I spent the first two years of my life in Los Angeles, my family would take me to the state park, the largest daypart, in what is generally referred to as the low desert, Colorado desert, and the Sonora desert, as opposed to the high desert, like the Mohave, Joshua tree, so different character, it is a beautiful character, when you think of the superlative that it offers, my own personal story, the wild flower blooming, taking off again now, and the bighorn sheep, small population hanging in there, the last population count, and the desert, Palm Springs themselves, that.the canyons up into and across the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, these oases, offering a habitat to an amazing and diverse portfolio of birds, mammals and flowers, implants, you would be surprised, most people think of it as a desolate place, but the desert spring is just so alive with an amazingly complex portfolio of biodiversity.

Maureen >> What kind of challenges do you see the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park facing?

Obi > We have conservation challenges coming from within and without, meaning that we have human challenges, namely political challenges, most notably probably the wall, which comes into and out of existence, I think, at least as far as the planning process goes, the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park shares a border with Mexico, and we know that if this wall actually happens, between the U.S. and Mexico, that it will spell the end of the bighorn sheep, for whom the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is named, they routinely cross the border on regular annual migration, and that would be a catastrophe. And we also have the problems of climate change and human induced inflection upon the water table underneath the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, on the surface, a very arid place, but just as recently as 100 years ago, if you were to dig a well, you would find the water table about 15 to 20 feet under the ground, a lot of water, now you have to go upwards of 200 feet down to find any water, so we have yet to see how this is going to affect the desert palm oases that I was talking about before. But they will be affected in the future, and what we need to do is we need to think of agriculture differently in the farrago Valley, — Barrego Valley, as we consider the options to make it happen to revivify the desert, and do it for generations to come.

Maureen >> As the author of the California field Atlas, where would you suggest residence, have not explored the area much, where would you say they should begin?

Obi > Such a wealth and diversity of natural landscapes to explore, if you haven’t yet, go north of the city, to the Torrey Pine reserve, which is perhaps the most where pine tree in the world, it is yours to protect, the only grow on the bluff on the coast, and to ponder the rarity and specialness of that pine tree, in that landscape is a wonder. I would also recommend if you’re looking for something a little bit more of interest, check out Palomar, into the national force there, the oak, white sage, landscape, up there, is really unique, and really represents this sort of mountainous border zone between what might be called a Mexican landscape or even a Northern California landscape, it is much different than the San Gabriel range, up north, you have some very interesting peninsular ranges down there, you settle into the Sonora desert. So your whole county is littered with the best, most beautiful, robust, adventure possibilities. Go out and check it out.

Maureen >> Author and illustrator, Obi Kaufmann, will be speaking about his book, the California field Atlas, at a series of events, including at the Borrego Springs next week.

Obi > See you out in the wild.

 

to order a signed copy of the California Field Atlas directly from the author, go to www.californiafieldatlas.com and follow Obi’s adventures on instagram @coyotethunder

Tour Notes from the Dry Winter of 2018

It is hard to know what to think of the weather. The warm and dry weather has us Californians fretting over living in a place that we have tricked now for over a century to think it is not truly the desert landscape that it is. We hope that March and April will give us all the precious preciptation we could use to make up the deficit that the last few months have failed to afford us. That being said, the first leg of this, my most recent book tour into Los Angeles and beyond, has been met with enthusiastic and attentive souls, all of whom seem so ready for this nature-first narrative that I present. I could not be more grateful for my reception again and again. I see our electric network and I can sense the paradigms shifting among our populace.

The book, my California Field Atlas climbed its way back to number one on the Northern California Nonfiction Bestseller List just in time for the latest printing to sell out again. The next printing is on its way although I’m now having to ration my own copies for the upcoming tour dates. I have removed the book for sale from the website, but if you are having problems finding one, I can be afford a few copies to send. Please let me know via email if you would like one: coyoteandthunder@gmail.com. /// Obi

 

As I write these words, I am half way through a week of tour dates – please read on for a brief synopsis and some updates to my calendar. For a complete list of my calendar, please cruise over to www.californiafieldatlas.com. I would like to thank the tremendously generous and insighful Lanny Kaufer of HERBWALKS for inviting me as his special guest this past Saturday as we surveyed the Ventura River two months after the monumental Thomas Fire. My notes of the scene: “This morning you could feel the sweet rain on its way. I was so happy and ready to spend it meeting an unprecedented network of connected spirits, now monitoring how all this dynamic, new-green is pushing up through the broken gray of a terrible fire two months back. The Ventura River watershed will recover and this precious place will regrow under the careful stewardship of all those capable hands and hearts I’ve met determined to make it so.” /// OBI

Let’s celebrate this triumph of restoration! The spring-run Chinook salmon may yet be returning to California’s San Joaquin River. I donated this painting to the @friendsoftheriver raffle-event one week ago in Coloma, where I’ll be presented the #californiafieldatlas at, at the Gold Trail Grange onHighway 49. Let us now, always work to restore the San Joaquin River, the second largest river in California. We are seeing promising signs that salmon can thrive in the river as hatchery fish are attaining new milestones. For the first time in sixty years, in 2017, spring-run Chinook salmon created their nests in the colder parts of the river below Friant Dam. By diverting most of the San Joaquin River for irrigation, since its building, the Friant Dam has caused about 60 miles (97 km) of the river to run dry. The fish last year successfully spawned, laying eggs that incubated and hatched into tiny fry as the sexually mature fish died. Biologists working with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s San Joaquin River Restoration Project have now begun to catch in order to study and release the juvenile fish in traps for the first time in November and December. These critically endangered, spring-run Chinook are successfully reproducing in the embattled, and itself endangered, San Joaquin. The desiccation of the river has caused the degradation of large stretches of riverside habitat and marshes, and has nearly eliminated the historic chinook salmon run that once numbered “possibly in the range of 200,000 to 500,000 spawners annually”. Now as we glare at our ability to destroy we see an new road, a new dawn toward our ability to participate in creation and preservation across new vistas of restoration and conservation.

to continue now, the tour notes – On Saturday, I was welcomed at one of my very favorite motor inns in California, the Ojai Rancho Inn by my dear friends Chris and Chelito (pictured on either side of me, above) and their small retail space in the motel’s lobby, called Eskina. Masterful purveryors of style and grace (both social and design), Chris and Chelito have in Eskina, a retail-habitat that I could not be more proud to present the Atlas in.

Yesterday, I brought the #californiafieldatlas to @2ndhandrevival in Eagle Rock. I’m so proud to be included among this excellent creative community and to have been asked by our host @hodism to once again paint the invitational poster.

Tonight, I will be presenting at the Audubon Center at Debs Park.

I am so proud to support my friends at the @mojavedesertlandtrust. The MDLT works hard across a whole spectrum of conservation activism. Their agenda includes not only affecting policy change by defending the California Desert Protection Act from the thieving attempts of the executive branch of our current, federal government – they work every day at restoring the natural features and habitats of the Mojave: planting desert plants which they grow themselves and tearing up roads on private inholdings that they have purchased, remediated and plan on managing for public use. I will be there on Saturday the 17th to help kick off the #desertlovers campaign with the #californiafieldatlas. The original of this painting will be raffled off then as well, again as always – to support the great work they do.

I have a new map of the watersheds and watercourses of the San Francisco Peninsula – please go check it out now at http://www.coyoteandthunder.com. In collaboration with the @peninsulaopenspacetrust, the map will be printed as a poster in the next month or so. As with all my maps I see it as my duty and my honor as a painter, a cartographer and a naturalist, to present as clearly as I can what is effectively an inventory of conservation. We have to know what there is to defend in order to conserve it at all. I am sure that by presenting this information in a beautiful, simplified, graphically-efficient manner, the well-rendered, handpainted map can be a vehicle for what is certainly no less than a fundamental, consciousness shift. By familiarizing ourselves with the larger geography of the natural world and its living systems that support and sustain us, our value perceived towards those systems begins to warp into a more organic paradigm; a new paradigm that the stressed and exploited resource-systems that we rely on need for us to immediately adopt. In that spirit of geographic literacy and with assured hope that simply by learning, by naming and by apprehending how and where these local, living networks interact, our love and respect for them grows.

In my most honest moments when my eyes become birds with tiny wings and big songs and when the roots of the friendly oaks find my heart and wrap it in paper for the wind, I throw off the rest of my skin with the leaves and take to the raccoon trails. The mushrooms pop up through the earth with bassoons burping as I count the fallen willow flowers with coyote’s nose, from one to the next, I sailed past the abandoned math on a broken bit of lichen thread with only the assurance that I got from blatherings of the silver creek that the best of use of all language is given to the winter mud where the seeds inside can bake and wait until they’re damn good and ready.