by Darren Gruetze
...and me. For the past four years I have worked to restore the desert. I keep coming back to the desert and SCA as a Restoration Corps member and leader because of the phenomenal work we do in an often misunderstood ecosystem; and because of the strong community that this work engenders.
SCA’s desert restoration work focuses on removing illegal off-highway vehicle trails. We use a variety of techniques and hand tools, but the outcome is always the same: we go to a piece of land whose survival is being undermined by misuse and repair the damage from human impact; we return land to the dominion of the earth, and tell her that this area is not ours, we relinquish our claim in hopes that she will accept it and return it to its natural beauty so that those who live here and are supported by the life here may be nourished and thrive.
The areas we attempt to restore are being destroyed by a lack of understanding of the fragility of the desert. Popular myths catalogue deserts as wastelands devoid of life, and that just isn’t so. The Mojave is a complex ecosystem where all species have evolved to fit niches and survive in harsh conditions; it’s an ecosystem whose inherent biological stressors magnify the damaging effects of misuse, because the margin of error between life and death for most animals and plants is so small.
The desert is the ecosystem that our culture is most likely to undervalue and disregard because it requires an effort to appreciate and understand--it doesn’t have the intrinsic in-your-face beauty of an old growth forest.
SCA’s restoration program challenged me to look at the desert in a different way and to learn why the species that survive here have endured. I learned that just because mammals are largely absent doesn’t mean that no life exists here; different life exists here.
Most importantly it taught me that the desert isn’t any more inhospitable than any other ecosystem; it is a question of adaptation. This work caused me to challenge my assumptions about my place in nature and this ecosystem.
I learned how to expand my personal ethics to include the land.
None of this would be possible without the community that the SCA program intentionally fosters. As corps leaders, we recognize the challenges that six strangers face living together, outdoors, for nine months straight. Working together, strangers quickly become friends and soon after, they evolve into a true community, constructively challenging each other at personal levels and developing lifelong connections and memories.
This community aspect of the SCA Desert Restoration Corps is intentional because none of the work that we do is worthwhile if it doesn’t change the way people view their relationship with the earth. Living in a mutually dependent social setting begins to help us understand the reciprocal nature of ecosystems.
We work not only to heal the land but also to heal ourselves – to understand and end the disconnect between how we live off the land and what our land needs to live and support us.
I was challenged and I continue to challenge new corps members to look at their lives and the ecosystems that surround them -- whether that is the Mojave or upstate New York -- and see not only what the ecosystems has to offer, but what they have to offer the ecosystem
In the future I will continue to do this work because without it, there can be no future.
A culture based on using up nonrenewable resources and the hyper-exploitation of renewable resources is not sustainable. I do not want to passively bow out and stand on the sidelines while what I love dies. I want to live in opposition to that which kills what I love, and I want teach and empower others to do the same.
This work is a way to do that. It heals both the earth and me.
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