Category: WILDERNESS

My study has always been love. Press me and I begin to murmur things like how my work is not science, but the subject of my work is data-driven biodiversity. I study patterns of habitat. To be more specific, I am a student of the beauty and history of biological evolution in morphological architecture and its application to fitness strategy across living systems. In my art and writing about ecology, I am more satisfied with the exploration of the best. most simple and elegant question than I am with any righteous, vocational answer. Where the #californiafieldatlas was a love story, my next books are becoming family albums. (obi)

Bright spots and battlegrounds for California conservation

Bright spots and battlegrounds for California conservation

By Obi Kaufmann

Originally published by PATAGONIA – THE CLEANEST LINE

author’s note: I am posting this article and these maps, as they were originally published by Patagonia, in their blog The Cleanest Line (link above), as a juxtaposition to the essay I posted yesterday: An Emerging Energy and a Desperate Question. I got some feedback from my readers with some concern that maybe that essay implied that I am somehow withdrawing from an activist attitude towards conservation policy. This is assuredly, not the case. 

August 2018

Depending on how you look at it, California’s most beloved wildlands are either under siege or experiencing a wellspring of support. In the current political atmosphere, bursting with assaults on bedrock environmental laws and protected public lands, it seems particularly important to recognize and spread the word about whatever pockets of optimism and progress you can find. For example, two recently introduced pieces of legislation that seek to protect hundreds of thousands of acres of some of the most spectacular wildlands in the state.

Just a couple weeks ago, Congressman Jared Huffman (D-Sausalito) introduced a bill, which would designate a 730,000-acre River Restoration Area in Trinity and Humboldt counties. It also calls for wilderness designation, the highest level of protection, for more than 260,000 acres of federal public lands and designates 379 miles of new wild and scenic rivers.

The Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation and Working Forests Act also addresses the critical issue of massive wildfires, by requiring better inter-agency fire coordination, allowing selective timber harvesting in unnaturally dense replanted forest areas and reducing fire risks near roads and private property.  The bill promotes better access for recreation across a wide area including Del Norte, Humboldt, Trinity, and Mendocino Counties, stretching from foggy coastal redwood groves to snowy mountain peaks. It calls for the assessment of trail improvement needs and a feasibility study for new mountain biking routes. Huffman’s proposed legislation also confronts problems created by illegal marijuana growers, who left behind toxic residues and damaged streams in public forest areas.

Along California’s wild and rugged central coast, the Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument would receive greater protections from a bill introduced less than a year ago by Rep. Salud Carbajal (CA-24) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). The Central Coast Heritage Protection Act would safeguard 245,000 acres of wilderness, create scenic areas encompassing nearly 35,000 acres, and designate 158 miles of wild and scenic rivers. This proposed legislation would also establish the approximately 400-mile Condor Trail as a National Recreation Trail, creating a hiking route connecting northern and southern sections of the Los Padres National Forest.

These bill proposals have a wide variety of supporters, including small business owners, local elected and community leaders, and residents concerned about preserving clean air, fresh water and the natural beauty of their regions. Business owners recognize the benefit of protected public lands nearby – since they depend on the dollars generated by tourism and the millions of visitors who love to hike, fish, hunt and camp in California’s wild public lands.

Now for the bad news. California could lose hard fought gains in several regions. One of the biggest battlegrounds is the Southern California desert, where earlier this year, the Interior Department announced it was canceling a plan to protect 1.3 million acres of national conservation lands from new mining claims.

The agency is also considering an overhaul of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) – an agreement that was achieved following an eight-year collaborative process involving federal, local, and state government, energy producers, conservationists, local stakeholders and recreation advocates. Given the current pro-industry and development agenda of the Trump administration, this re-opening the DRECP is viewed as a likely attack on the important conservation gains in the plan.

The DRECP was celebrated as a step forward in the battle against climate change, and a model for other states seeking to guide the permitting of large-scale renewable energy projects to less sensitive locations, where they would cause the least environmental harm. The plan supports renewable energy by designating 400,000 acres of “development focus areas” on federal lands where projects can get expedited permits.  At the same time, the plan protects 6.5 million acres of the California desert’s most sensitive habitat for wildlife and native plants, as well as Native American historic and cultural sites. 3.6 million acres are designated under the plan for recreation, including hiking, camping, rockhounding, and off-road recreation. The fate of this massive renewable energy and conservation plan is now in the hands of the Bureau of Land Management – where officials are expected to release a decision on possible amendments any day now.

Turning to California’s coastal waters – early this year, the Trump administration, as part of its energy dominance platform, announced it was considering opening most of America’s coastal waters to oil exploration and drilling, including waters off California’s coastline – taking direct aim at existing protections provided by marine sanctuaries. This could mark the first time in decades that new leases are offered for California offshore drilling. If the Interior Department follows through, it will certainly spark a fierce political fight and a flurry of lawsuits.

So, the Golden State, like other places across the country, is both under siege and pushing back hard with sound conservation proposals. There has never been a more important time for Californians and nature lovers across the country to know the issues affecting public lands and to speak up for the environment.  There are many ways to get involved – from increasing your level of civic engagement to joining a local conservation group, or making donations to organizations that are fighting for the environment.

 

An Evolving Energy and a Desperate Question

An Evolving Energy and a Desperate Question

by Obi Kaufmann

10.16.18

I am inviting an evolving energy, an emerging, anxiousness from the community when I present my work on tour. This new character of question, an expectant tone, skirts desperation and is often accompanied with a shaking tone of voice and pleading eyes. Where does humanity fit into my work, this future vision of California? What does reconciliation between industry and the natural world look like? With the legion of tragic, environmental conundrums that face our beleaguered spirit, how do we rediscover ecological equilibrium?

My standard answers are broken. I often stumble through piecemeal solutions about deficient policies or about new technologies that promise to fix our troubles. I am wrong in this approach on two fronts: 1) No one person has all the answers to the incredibly complex, positive feedback loops of degradative forces that currently threaten the workings of the biosphere. This work, my passion’s only contribution is the engaging and activation of a democratic literacy towards a better common understanding of geography and conservation, and 2) The dream of the world is unfolding exactly as it always have, and exactly as it should. We either work to balance our rights and our responsibilities with great love, compassion and vision, or we do not. Our best moments of problem solving will not come from fretful desperation, but by a contemplative course of action. Maybe it is like orienting on a map without a trail, only a heading.

I am an artist and my business is world-building. Every minute that you proceed through the California Field Atlas, I am asking you to accept this, my view of the natural world based on my inspiration, on my appreciation and on my experience as an explorer. My work is not a work of straight science. Of course, the maps I present in the California Field Atlas are data-driven but for the most part, quantifiable detection, measurement and consensus are three necessary concepts science requires that my work does not. My work depends on an emotional plea, and because of it, the community brings their passionate cry, their longing concern.

I believe that the great, sustaining systems of the natural world are not only alive, but intelligent. There is mind, systems of thinking, networks of advanced awareness infused everywhere in the natural world. Mind is not the abject province of humanity in its solitude, but rather a function of the breathing biosphere itself. When in wild places, open to wilder modes, thoughts sharpen as if the ideas there are not ours to claim spontaneously generated, but as if they exist independently of ourselves and enter us through our body. The synthesis (not the analysis) of this connected and holistic view on the ecological nature of mind speaks my truth to this, my life-long, ever-evolving epiphany.

At dawn, my eyes are some new variety of rose opening violet petals over heaven. I spend my waking, walking days tracking the oldest forests and let them track themselves through me. 200 million years before these mountains dreamed themselves to rise, this forest was already ancient. Carboniferous secrets, so often only considered bones and blood for human utility, spell an emerging and dangerous age of simplification for the citizen conifer. In the next one hundred millennia, new diversity will return to this mosaic habitat as the script of fire regime, atmospheric chemistry and hydrologic replenishment work to erase the scars of our petroleum print. I’ll leave my flowered-eyes on this mountain to watch that cycle happily reset.

The underlying plea I hear from this activated and concerned community I encounter up and down the state, seems to be those virtues that might illicit core-transformation in human, industrial thought. I would list them as grace, truth, insight, and wisdom – the great aspirations. The elixir that promises from this point onward our collective-life, our society will be defined by that which has come before and what now we are on the trail forward. When we have lost or have become lost to our former selves and merge with the greater forces of the world, we are found as an extension of those forces. Our left hand becomes our west hand and our right hand becomes our east hand.

My work has led me to the conclusion that our own species continued existence in what will certainly be a coming, post-carbon society (either imposed on us from without, or positively generated by us from within) will be made possible only by preserving as much biodiversity as we possibly can. Ecological simplification is a perilous trajectory, like a cloth that gets too worn and thin. The interlacing dynamics of the rapidly changing, delicate and yet resilient natural world are the course of my passion and present an ethical agenda in demonstrating how biodiversity works on connectivity, not isolation or sequestration. If we are not talking about the preservation, rehabilitation, stabilization, restoration, conservation, development and reconstruction of the world’s rich treasure of biodiversity and its habitats, we are not having a good conversation.

I am so humbled and grateful to have the opportunity to field these fears and to become, myself an audience to the transformative vision they represent. I think these are the very best questions that we could be asking: where is ecological peace in this overpopulated world? How do we serve the restoration of biodiversity? Can we change society? Simply by asking the question, the clay of collective-thought is working into new forms.

All there is, is process. Restoration is not a destination. Conservation is not a goal. The inspiration of our work is in recognizing the majesty of all species in all wild places as a spiral of biodiversity, free from commodification and free of disposability. We acknowledge all natural systems as alive and recognize them all to retain and hold their right to exist as a living system to protect and encourage. We support and draft policies that encourage resource replenishment over nonrenewable extraction, and we foster a singular, concurrent responsibility in tandem with every human-right we hold self-evident. We understand that there is a community-based functionality of a more-than-human society surrounding our progressive efforts and absolutely supports the culture of our species. We recognize this, our earthly progress, our continued terrestrial residency, as a temporal gift that graciously and necessarily demands reciprocation.

Fighting tragedy with love is the bravest effort we can give. The answer to the nihilistic question of whether or not we have a place, or worse, deserve to exist in this beautiful world, must be an axiomatic: we do. We are an invention of the earth. We are not separate from the earth. We are an aspect of nature. To survive the bottleneck of our own species’ adolescence, we must work on forging a new ecological paradigm. If we unable to will it, it will be imposed on us. I don’t have prophetic answers and I need to stop trying to give them. That work is not for me. My work is in the beautiful and nutritious mud, where water and sunlight give seed purchase. My work is about exposing the natural world for all the inspiration and meaning it holds and then cherishing those rare and precious moments when it can bring people together in the appreciation for how that world sustains us all.

California’s Natural World; Conservation & Restoration

Presention by Obi Kaufmann

California Native Plant Society – Yerba Buena Chapter

July 05, 2018

San Francisco, California

(begin)

O1. POPPY

Thank you all so much for having me. As a naturalist, how could you not be a fan of that which is rare in the natural world? Rare means precious. Rare means value. Rare means a moral imperative to protect. In the year of my birth, 1973, The California Native Plant Society, already having existed for eight years, and having published California’s Rare Plant Index five year before, collaborated with the Smithsonian to review the national list of plants and found that California holds populations of a third of all plants on that list. Monumental, industrial work towards restoration and stewardship is the hallmark of the California Native Plant Society and supporting and participating in their efforts is my distinct honor and pleasure.

01a, flowers

Plant lovers, flower friends, tree huggers are a very special vintage of person. They certainly are their own kind, a type. It is not a temporal aspect of personality, it is not a phase, it is a pillar of character, it can be a calling, like being an artist or some other vocation to which one is bound, to which one is committed with a ferocity of love that is normally reserved to family. The academic manifestation of that love, those burning decades of focus, can be a proficient lyricism with among other thing, Latin and the accompanying binomial nomenclature used to name species; alas, this lyric ability is wasted on mixed company where in all but the most specific social situations, you are guaranteed blank stares should you find yourself indulging an expression of the obsession.

(02 Condor Map)

I am really, quite sure that the lay people, ordinary folk who aren’t called to the niche-specialized work that the good folks at the CNPS do, day in and day out, get bored so quickly at the professional talk of dendrology and angiosperm diversity, is because of its lack so often of human context, of human story. We, the naturalist community, are mostly just happy to let the plants be the plants; they aren’t resources, they aren’t commodities. Our internal resonance, our appreciation of them, and with the natural world in general is best expressed by our study of it. We find a community, however insular, however exclusive, and we become experts, and we work on a dangerous fulcrum of being not-understood, of being dismissed, of our work being too esoteric to be relevant. I think that this conundrum – and I do think it is a conundrum, not a criticism – is symptomatic of a larger issue now, in contemporary political culture. Our work, more than ever, is being politicized, that rapacious form of appropriation where to preserve biodiversity, for example, is wrapped up in a whole bundle of ideologies, of agendas, of what I believe and what you believe. And it doesn’t matter what it true. It doesn’t matter that we know science is not a belief-system. What does matter is that we are in a torpor of narrative, a gravity-well of story where what we hold most dear: the nuanced interdependence of all living networks is not real to the experience of so many.

(03 FOREST)

Tonight’s presentation will not be me getting too preachy about what we need or need not do to combat, or to defend, or to even change anyone’s mind about anything. Lord knows those roads have been mapped, ad nauseum, by those more qualified than myself. I believe, at the core of my process, that with the right attitude, with the right quality, with the right language, paradigms crack and slip, almost tectonically, unintentionally, by a function of what can be described as a physical dimension to human, conscious thought. Tonight, I am going to walk you through an introduction of my work, where I have been, how I got there and where I think it all might be going. Tonight, I am going to work through some process of my own voice ascending these stairs to what it aspires to be: a more explicit demonstration of my love for California’s natural world. Given that I believe my creative, mortal purpose is the joyful participation in all the world has for us to witness, my vision is ultimately and necessarily inclusive.

(04 BOOK)

With that, I would like to present the California Field Atlas. I am very proud where the book has gone in the past ten months since its first printing, as we are now already in its fourth. It has won three awards: the first was for the unfinished manuscript, my publisher submitted it for the Phelan Award for California writing, the second was the book of the year by the Northern California Book Sellers Association and the third was the gold medal for significant contribution to publishing from the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco.

(05 Ten Months)

It’s been ten months since the publication of the California Field Atlas. Ten months since I left this box of flowers at the garden gate. Ten months on tour up and down, left to right, traveling through and across the human ecology of California. 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.

(06 prismagraphic)

Perhaps you know what the book is, perhaps you don’t. Let me summarize it this way: several hundred, hand-painted maps and wild life renderings describing how the natural world works around California. A little bit deeper, I could describe it this way: an introductory handbook and inventory of conservation, in celebration of California’s natural history. It also is a 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 physiogeography regardless of the contemporary urban veneer, the jacketing tyranny of concrete and plastic that we have so successfully imposed. Whatever modicum of success the book is enjoying, I owe it all to what I think more and more is an electric-network of citizens ready for this nature-first kind of narrative. How do we begin to reconcile this ache we have in our bones that California does not belong to us, but rather the reverse: we belong to this place, and more so, that this place is alive.

(07 Biogeochemical Cycles)

The condition of life, of being alive is an important thing to summarize, as I do spend most of my working hours deliberating it. I start my book with the one assumption, well actually two assumptions, but I’ll start with the first one now: that every natural feature of California is alive and deserves an emancipated rebirth from the old human paradigms of utility and extraction without reciprocation and gratitude. If I were to rewrite that assumption now, two years after I initially drafted it, I would exchange the word feature with the word system – Every natural system is alive. It’s more concise language to express an idea that carries the larger message of my life’s work. All systems within the biosphere, that gloriously thin belt of roiling biotic and abiotic systems, that global conversation of biogeochemical cycles that makes all complex organisms possible – those systems that have not been rendered sterile through human artifice – all contain properties and exhibit behaviors, at relative scale, that arguably not only mimic life, but are life itself.

(08 Black Holes and Warped Spacetime)

Quantifiable detection, measurement and consensus are the three necessary concepts that science requires, that my work does not. I am an artist, and every minute that you hold this book in your hand, I am asking you to accept my view of the natural world based on my inspiration, on my appreciation and on my experience as an explorer. I am very sensitive in drawing a line between what I do and what scientists do – I grew up with it. Both my parents were scientists of sorts: my mother, Dr. Jeffre Talltrees is a clinical psychologist and my father, Dr. William John Kaufmann, III, was an astrophysicist. Here is a copy of one the eighteen books he wrote before his death, 24 years ago today. Black Holes in Warped Spacetime. The blurb on the cover reads “From star birth to star death… to the final cosmic reality where fact and fantasy merge.” I am sure he did not write that.

(09 Iris)

Throughout high school, my after school regimen was three hours of math homework a night before dinner. Stack of paper, cup of sharp pencils. I still work that way, now often with a brush in hand. I believe my father was attempting to instill in me the discipline of math and science as the language of empirical truth-to-inquiry into the fundamental nature of the cosmos. This far from those days, still quite clearly having some type of conversation with my father’s intellectual legacy, I see now that what I actually gained in those endless man-hours of calculus practice was a larger appreciation with I would call the aesthetics of systems theory. All I see, all I was trained to see, is a pervading grace that when matched with my own proclivities towards the arts and the humanities, amounted to a kind of philosophical liberation, a scientific backbone where I now am licensed to take my inventions: my invented geography, my elemental-narrative of earth, air, fire and water and exhibit them freely as working extrapolations that offer truth in an interpersonal context.

(10 Klamath River)

The river doesn’t care if you think it is alive or not. At that scale, the Klamath River will look like how I’ve painted it here, a thousand years from now – long after all of our roads have returned to the dust from which they are made. 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.

(11 forest)

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 author’s as Rachel Carson.

(12 POST)

Despite potentially being threatened to whatever degree by any given executive administration and their unwise policies, there are certain core bits of knowledge that we’ve attained to the betterment of our natural world. An obvious example for this crowd might be the acknowledgement that the willful introduction of alien species into any given ancient ecosystem always disrupts the productive equilibrium of that community. But we are still so far from realizing a day when we transform our hearts from reclamation to restoration, that relieved cessation to manifest destiny, when the exponentially spiraling, positive-feedback loops are tamed. We do not yet know what we do not know. We are still in the wave of industrial progress, and when that wave moves through us, either by its own momentum or by our choice to restructure it, our society will be left with a new paradigm, and the structure of that paradigm will be ecological.

(13 Water)

I have now just finished up my second book in this series which will ultimately be a five series set. This second book is a bit of an outlier to the other four: it is about water. This first book, the California Field Atlas is an elemental tour of the big, macro-networks of Earth, Air, Fire and Water are there relative influence across the topography, largely irrespective of humanity. The following trilogy: The California Lands Trilogy will consist of three books to come out in 2019 and 2020, again published by HEYDAY called The Forests of California, The Coasts of California and the Deserts of California. First though, I had to get my head around Water – the single most altered aspect of California’s large and natural systems of life. The book is called the State of Water, a field atlas to the conservation of California’s most precious resource.

(14 Rivers)

We enjoy water now in California as a generously available commodity derived from, at different scales, a finite resource. After enough numbers have been considered, and after enough resources have be reconciled between what we use, what there is and what we need, I am always amazed by how far we’ve extended the natural limits of the sheer volume of water in this arid paradise. The next one hundred years, like the last one hundred years in California history, will be defined by water. The premise of the book, if there is an agenda to it at all is that if we’re not talking about conservation, we are not have a good debate about water. Better pour another drink, because as Mark Twain (probably never) said: “whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting.”

(15 Salmon)

I pick my fights carefully in this thin book. Like my other books, it is a systems theory, a personal journey through art and analysis that is about more than what it is actually about. The infrastructure of California water, specifically surface water systems – a braided knot, an artifact of superimpositions over the state’s natural circulatory network that is as dazzling as it might be precarious. My focus is on the riparian ecosystems that harbor so much endangered, endemic life and my relationship to it, not only as a thirsty artist (pun intended) with so many of his own opinions, but a citizen involved in unpacking the truth. Sometimes the process appears as a fight, at other times a celebration.

(16 coyote)

When I wrote the California Field Atlas, the political climate of the country was much different. As I am working on the follow-ups, I am tracing a very delicate line between activism and celebration, between ire and ecstasy, between agenda and observation. Ultimately, the primary dynamic in my systems analysis is scale, through both time and across space. The political reality of the moment does not necessarily have any more or any less a catastrophic effect on the wild character of California, than the last five hundred, or even ten thousand years, the history of human residency in this place. The avalanching effect on patterns of endemic life that society has, is coming sharply into focus as the most important issue of our day.

(17 Map 01)

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 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.

(18 Map 02)

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.

(19 Owl)

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.

(20 Adaptive 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.

(21 flowers)

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.

(22 River Otter)

The next several hundred years will be the age of ecology. We will learn how remediation becomes restoration and moves to stewardship for the conservation and preservation of biosphere-system-balances that make human life possible. Since the late 18th century when we entered the era of the carbon economy and began the veiling of the whole surface of the planet in a thin layer of combustion’s residue, then again in 1945 when we upped the ante on the process and deposited another layer of strata in the form of radioactive particles that marked the beginning of humanity’s nuclear age, we entered a new, geologically detectable age of the Holocene, the Anthropocene, or as E.O.Wilson warns, the age of loneliness. If in fact it is to be an age of loneliness, as the so-called sixth massive extinction that is proceeding at a rate corresponding directly with the exponential growth of our species, we will only witness its beginnings and not its far reaching effects as our existence is supported by a network of all life that reaches to touch all pieces of the biosphere. With collective vision, we are together drawing another path through this labyrinth, one that is at least locally alive more now than it was fifty years ago. From this context, a painting of a river otter, and relating a simple tale of their precarious resurgent population across the San Francisco Bay Delta, is far more than just a cute, aquatic predator regaining a foothold – it is a symbol of us recognizing the way to our future legacy is by examining, supporting and reinforcing the legacy of nature’s past. As much habitat as we can afford to return to wild, endemic patterns is investment into our own, rich and resilient future.Intro

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.

Geographic Literacy & the Watersheds of the Peninsula

I often say that I don’t have any prophetic truths about where and how the state of California conservation and ecology is going to unfold in the next 100 years. We are entering a time dominated by ecological chaos on many levels of scale, all stemming from and around the inter-human (meaning here, the effects of a global human population of 10 billion) and the intra-human (meaning here, the systems and policies we as the community of California citizens choose to enact and defend). Whatever help I can be and it is my solemn honor to do so, as a painter, a cartographer and a naturalist, is 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.

Working draft of the Watersheds of the Peninsula for the POST (the Peninsula Open Space Trust) by Obi Kaufmann – @coyotethunder on instagram.

By removing the roads and by essentializing a nature-first narrative, we place ourselves and our anthro-aggrandizing human network in what is perhaps a humbler context, a larger ecosystem of necessarily networked forces. 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, I present my latest map: a collaboration with the PENINSULA OPEN SPACE TRUST. With love and respect for conservation comes legal defense, political will and a society-changing world view, that once fully embraced will protect not only whatever it is we choose to protect, but may just afford our complicated little species the grace it needs to navigate through the coming decades of chaos.

Watersheds and Watercourses of the San Francisco Peninsula. The map will be published as a poster in 2018 and be made available through the Peninsula Open Space Trust. By Obi Kaufmann

Covering approximately 1,100 square miles (over 700,000 acres), the land area described on this map holds more than 2,000 miles of watercourse across 67 primary creeks, streams and rivers within 58 watersheds.

A watershed is a geographically discreet zone defined by how the contour of its local geologic morphology (the shape of the land) and its hydrology (the way the water moves across the land) work around a common draining watercourse (creek, stream, river) or aquifer (groundwater).

The dominant land feature across the San Francisco’s southern peninsula, called the Peninsula, is the Santa Cruz Mountains. Separating the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean, the mountains rise to a maximum height of 3,806 feet at Loma Prieta. The Santa Cruz mountains extend across three counties: San Mateo, Santa Cruz and Santa Clara. The west face of the range is home to the largest, intact and continuous stands of old-growth Redwood forest south of San Francisco. Riparian habitat of this kind (redwood dominant, mixed conifer and bay) is common along steep basins saddling both sides of the northern, coastal-end of the range. Other regular ecological habitat along these diverse, coastal mountains includes Oak woodland, Montane hardwood, coastal dunes, chaparral, coastal sage scrub, Bay wetland, vernal-pool grassland, cattle rangeland and of course the human ecologies of the greater Silicon Valley, coastal communities, Santa Clara Valley and Santa Cruz. The Peninsula is home to nearly one hundred endangered species of plants and animals.

About the Peninsula Open Space Trust

The Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) has protected over 75,500 acres of open space, farms and parkland since its founding in 1977. In that time, POST has developed a proven methodology for successful land protection by purchasing the land and placing permanent protection on it through conservation easements. Once the protection work is complete POST continues to take care of the land in perpetuity.

Land conservation means not only protecting the land, but keeping it in good condition, too.  POST’s stewardship team uses both traditional and innovative techniques for evaluating, prioritizing and caring for open space on each POST owned property. POST’s work ranges from essential maintenance like re-grading roads, fixing fences and managing vegetation for fire control, to ambitious long-term restoration projects that create vibrant habitats for native plants and wildlife. Other examples include invasive weed eradication, developing new trails, reviving river, stream and creekside habitats, and managing productive working lands like ranches, farms and forests.

POST’s scope of work also includes providing assistance with working lands management, protecting natural resources and providing recreation activities for everyone.

Working lands include farms, forests and grazing land. POST projects promote productive use of these lands while protecting and enhancing natural resources.  Recent projects include managed grazing, water infrastructure improvements and selective timber harvesting.

We work in partnership with public agencies and private owners to protect natural resources: the flora, fauna, water, air and soil that exist on all POST protected properties. We raise money through grants and donations to eradicate invasive plants, restore riparian habitats and native grasslands, ensure fish and wildlife passage and prevent soil erosion.

When well managed, recreational activities like hiking, biking, and horseback riding provide people with the chance to build a healthy connection to the land while also protecting the natural resources on each property.  We work with public and private partners to plan and build trails, while protecting the most sensitive environments.

Portrait of the artist Obi Kaufmann at Butano State Park.

Resiliency, a wildlands presentation

Resiliency

By Obi Kaufmann

For the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center

Delivered Saturday 10.14.17, the Armory, Ashland, Oregon

First, thank you, people of Oregon and perhaps some here, people of Northern California and perhaps even others, refugees and emigrants from parts elsewhere. Thank you for having me, a guy who was born and spent his whole life, except for one wild year in Portland about fifteen years ago, traipsing around the California hinterlands and working on simultaneously, a dual career: one, my own art – calligraphy, painting and mapmaking and two, land conservation. I donate my time and money to over two dozen organizations up and down the west who seem to tirelessly hold the line against those who see habitat and wildlands as mere commodity, and I don’t hesitate to say KSWild is one of my favorite. The work that the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center does is close to my heart and I am proud to stand with them again and again on issue after issue – giving voice to the so often voiceless forces of wilderness – standing up for biodiversity, standing for resistance against the endless corporate interests of extraction at the cost of our natural world and family.

Tonight’s theme is resilience and I’ve quite a yarn I could chew, whether we are talking about circles radiating out from the personal to the interpersonal, the transpersonal, to the bioregional, to the network of larger living systems that all hold each other in the basket of life our beautiful globe enjoys. Immediately though, I am drawn to pause at the human toll, as residents of the west, that we’ve endured this past year and continue to endure. I am moved to mention this, and what I am speaking about is of course – fire, because right now my home-region, San Francisco’s Bay Area is currently suffering California’s October flame, and it is certainly common ground for us as neighbor states to commiserate there upon. For those of you who may still be working on recovering from either September’s massive fires, or I am sure many of you remember the Buzzard Complex Fire near Burns in 2014 at almost 400,000 acres – or maybe, being here in Ashland you remember the Long Draw Fire in 2012 to our east at well over 500,000 acres – or the Biscuit Fire of 2002, perhaps the fire most associated with the area of land KSWild concerns themselves with, again at over 500,000 acres – or maybe the Chetco Fire at about 200,000 acres, both deep in the Siskiyou and Klamath Mountains and Kalmiopsis knot. To those of you affected by those fire, I am sorry – you are resilient, and I freely dedicate my words to you.

I could give this talk every year. It comes with the territory, doesn’t it? Our land speaks in fire and that language is evolving. If you listen too much to the media, or the president, you begin to think that Chicken Little may have been right – between the hurricanes and the fires, our nation takes it hard every year from both cardinal directions. And while it is true that something unprecedented is happening at scale from the regional to the global – that all systems are being directly influenced by a myriad of human factors from fossil fuel to population – it is also true that the west has never known stasis in these matters and that by a certain kind of knowledge, a knowledge I refer to as a primary agenda in my Field Atlas: a geographic literacy, I posit that it is not only an inner-kind of peace you can make with all this horribleness, but that there are real solutions there too that come when the citizenry shares a common reference, even a common reality based on the ebb and flow of nature’s resources and shaping forces.

The California Field Atlas has been out now for about a month and my wife Alli and I have been dragging our happy little dog Gordy all around the Golden State on an incredible book tour that I can only begin to describe as, as least as gratifying as it is intense. I see so many people’s eyes light up when it dawns on them what this book is – I see so much thirst for this nature-first kind of story. Especially in these days of political miasma, when people are so easily triggered by everything on both sides of any national or regional issue, there is a certain kind of peace that comes from rooted-ecological thinking and pattern-making across thousands of miles and thousands of millions of years. This book and the kind of dialogue it affords and inspires, warms the human heart to its own resiliency by reminding us that we are from the natural world and it is to the natural world we always return.

I am most commonly asked three questions about how and why I wrote the California Field Atlas. The first is did you do both the illustrations and the writing? And when I answer yes, the second question usually follows: how long did it take you? And then the third question is usually either, depending on how deep a thinking person they are – did you write this in the woods? A surprisingly common question to which the truthful answer, no, because while I have spent most of my life walking the backcountry of California, I did need a computer’s help in this huge effort – usually comes as a disappointment. What was your inspiration or why did you write it at all?

Last year, when I was still writing the thing, I was announced as the winner of the San Francisco Foundation’s Phelan award for California Literature, and at the awards dinner I met Gary Snyder – shown here at left. Gary Snyder, and for those of you who don’t know it, wrote among other great works: Mountains and Rivers Without End – a most-interesting and poetic treatise on the resiliency of the mountain forest chains that extend both inward and outward alike. Anyway, I won the award, I think more than anything because it was being published by Malcolm Margolin of Heyday Books out of Berkeley – Here I am also with the artist Tom Killion, who is a huge inspiration of my work. Standing there with Gary, after he reviewed my work and looking up asked me “But Obi, what is California?” Now that is a question. I am glad that I had a modicum of wits about me when I could only reply after taking a deep breath “well, to me Gary, right now California is both Heaven and Hell.”

To Gary’s point, California doesn’t exist as a static thing, a discreet system like a garden or a zoo – there is no element of domesticity there to be detected at all, still, despite even the 21st century veneer, this concrete jacket that we’ve successfully and assuredly momentarily imposed across the west. It remains a living thing, resistant to disease, even if that disease is in human form and wishes to too quickly alter its way and its means – for it will defend itself from the interloper and burn us off like a fever defending the body if we are not careful.

So what does being careful mean? Well we are clearly still working that out and I’ve got little as far as prophetic answers go. But I do have a heading. I can discern orientation in these woods. Being careful, in whatever social system, is always about being respectful. And being respectful is about being able to read the situation of any given community, and being able to read the normal workings of that community. There is a ritual to all ecological workings and that ritual uses living systems that disclose to us clues about when and where to step.

You might have noticed, I use that word a lot: living, or the act of being alive. It is core to the character of the natural world I describe in my book – that all, natural systems are living systems and deserve an emancipated rebirth from the old human paradigms of utility and extraction without reciprocation and gratitude. If you get this point, you see why I left roads and other such things out of my book. This is what the Klamath River will look like in 1,000 years long after our concrete dams have returned to the dust and silt from which they were made. That blue line cutting through those mountains is the line we should learn from – that is the line we should understand.

When you being to accept my assumption that all, natural systems are alive, they being to make a bit more sense and human activity and contrivance begins to make a little less. And I am not shy about it when I say yes, even systems of fire are living networks based on ecological regimes – ecologies that are both adaptive and dependent on it for succession, proliferation and health. I would be remiss to not mention that for over 15,000 years, indigenous cultures of the west have understood how fire regimes may be mitigated over grand swathes of topography. And it is of course in our best interest to again consider the urban/wildlands interface in that regard, as far as prescribed burning and settlement, along with an intimate and practical understand of how invasive botanicals alter the regime in any give locale.

It is my core belief that when and if we can learn, and come to a common vocabulary, a vocabulary robust with respect and acknowledgement, we may yet just survive, as a species, our adolescence. Perhaps then we can trust each other enough to not only begin the conversation about how our continued residency in the west might extend for not only another hundred years, but maybe another thousand or even ten thousand years.

To conclude, I thought I would end with a quick Gary Snyder poem – one that gets to the beating heart of what it means to be counted among a truly sustainable community, or at least one that wishes to be so – this is from “Mountains and Rivers without End” and I like to think that maybe he wrote it in some beautiful moment deep in the Klamath Know, perhaps in the Marble Mountains or the Trinities… it is called “Old Bones.”

 

Out there walking round, looking out for food,

A rootstock, a birdcall, a seed that you can crack

Plucking, digging, snaring, snagging,

            Barely getting by,

 

No food out there on dusty slopes of scree –

Carry some – look for some,

Go for a hungry dream.

Deer bone, Dall sheep,

            Bones hunger home.

 

Out there somewhere

A shrine for the old ones,

The dust of the old bones,

            Old songs and tales.

 

What we ate – who ate what –

            How we all prevailed.  

Indigofera Jeans x Coyote Thunder collaboration

Indigofera Jeans x Coyote Thunder collaboration

Personality and place comingle in the latest offering from Indigofera jeans. Working for over a year with California artist Obi Kaufmann, the Stockholm-based outfitters are proud to present a capsule line of rugged men’s apparel that blurs the line between equipment and clothing. Designed for the poet-adventurer at home hiking both the Sierra Nevada Mountains or on San Francisco’s foggy beach, this new collaboration blazes a new trail, balancing a wilderness soul with an urban-ready vibe.

In this line, informally called the “California Hiking Series,” Indigofera continues their trademark obsession with craftsmanship, quality, simplicity and functional design in every piece and in every detail.

photo by Standard & Strange, Oakland California, 2017

Obi Kaufmann, author of the forthcoming “California Field Atlas” (to be published by Heyday Books, Sept. 2017) lends his art and inspiration to this project, which includes a complete trail-ready outfit for the aspiring naturalist who is just as at home studying wildflowers as he is  sipping whiskey down at the honky tonk.

 

In addition to the clothes themselves, a sumptuously-illustrated blanket based on the paintings of Obi Kaufmann’s #trailpaintings called “Old Man Coyote” is complementing the collection and being simultaneously premiered.

(from left to right): Pontus, Obi, Mats, Kari and Fredrik of INDIGOFERA

The European debut of the collection will occur at Selvedge Run in Berlin in January. The North American debut will take place at Desert & Denim in Joshua Tree in February, 2017. Wholesale orders are currently being considered with a September 2017 ship date.

Obi Kaufmann posts his work as @coyotethunder on Instagram.