CALIFORNIA’S STATE, an interview with Wade Crowfoot

A couple of weeks back, I was honored to be interviewed, LIVE on YOUTUBE by Wade Crowfoot, California State Secretary of Natural Resources. We enjoyed an easy rapport in an energetic conversation that meandered through many subjects. We discussed the creative and analytic sources of my work and the larger concepts of restoration and conservation of the natural world of California, their trends, and trajectories. Wade is an enthusiastic, genuine, and curious student of nature, and I was so pleased with how it went that I am sure I will remember this moment as a highlight in my personal and professional career. What follows is a post of the video itself and some notes, along with some lost visual material that was not able to accompany the presentation as it went live due to a technical glitch.

(above; the intro to The State of Water, and an illustration of the Yellow-cheeked chipmunk from my forthcoming book The Forests of California). Note: More rewarding than presenting the work itself is the audience I am able to become before this electric network, a community ready for this nature-first narrative. I listen to the choir of neighbors ready to be counted in a nation that draws its strength from a healthy relationship with all systems of the natural world. In the next one hundred years, as our society turns from extraction to replenishment as the primary attitude toward this giving-land of plenty, into a post-carbon economy, we will reject more and more the rhetorical miasma set as a divisive agenda upon us from the swarm of professional politicians. The solutions to all manner of our ecological dilemmas are already on the table. Disregarding the vocal extremes, we are one and we are not afraid of the work it will take to continue this, perhaps the most important conversation we can have.

(above, the character of California — The Yuba has run down that course for nearly ten million years, and (right) the island of Baja, as a suburb of the San Francisco archipelago, ten million years from now). The Field Atlas, a genre of my own invention, that describes those living systems that have influenced and supported, continue to influence and support, and will always influence and support ecosystems across California’s physio-geography regardless of the contemporary urban veneer, the jacketing tyranny of concrete and plastic that we have so successfully imposed.

(above, Obi Kaufmann in his studio, right, Chumash paintings, Santa Barbara County) note: The tools we use to describe our instincts: words and art and the invention of fiction that were gifted to our species during the cognitive revolution more than 70,000 years ago are best used for society’s long term well-being when they are used in the service of Stewardship of the natural world. This is now a lost sentiment, after Watt’s 1774 invention of the oil-powered steam engine, a date uncoincidentally aligning with the revolution that spawned the world’s first major democratic, governing power. We now live in Bill Mckibben’s world: the end of nature – a book I have a lot of problems with – when every bit of the biosphere was touched by the atmospheric spread of humanity’s first, global-altering emission, cementing our legacy of detritus and pollution in the visible, geologic strata.

Note: In the industrial world, in the grips of the industrial world’s ethical paradigm, it is nearly impossible to imagine stillness or balance is probably the better word, on a cultural level. Even those among us who wish to see a restored ecography – some new version of society where a balance is attained between the extraction and replenishment of our copious natural resources – are attempting to envision a machine that puts the proverbial toothpaste back in the tube. That is not to say that we’ve not made great strides towards reconciling the known threats. The invention of Public lands, a bit more than a century ago, was a great step towards identifying our right to develop with our responsibility to set aside. It helped us to realize what the author Gretel Ehrlich calls the Solace of Open Spaces, a necessary driver of sanity in our body and our collective mind. Fifty years ago, The Golden Age of Environmental legislation did what it could to unite us in our efforts to remediate the terrible poisons we injected willfully into our shared environment and threatened the longevity of the legacy that is our natural world, opened up to us by such authors as Rachel Carson.

Note: In my work, I do not recount a doom and gloom philosophy, listing emergency calls-to-action, but I also strive to not suffer the foolish policies of the unwise interests at the helm of any given governmental administration. In my work, I examine the relationship between art and science, which in my mind is the play between meaning and truth and applies 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.


Categories: CALIFORNIA