by Ana Catalina Vázquez Ramírez
“Looking out across the land, I see layers of the biological and cultural worlds that weave themselves together, making a place I call home and inviting me to find my role within it.”
-from The Ecology of Herbal Medicine by Dara Saville
In the prototype arcology (the fusion of architecture and ecology) that is Arcosanti, it is our delight to be able to “look out across the land” at any time— from where we rest, nourish, play, work, grow and more. We are continuously awakened to the depth of our entanglement with the more-than-human world around us, both through intention and by chance. In that awakening we are ignited with curiosity and have the ease to venture out into the wilder scapes to satisfy (or grow) that curiosity. The search that this curiosity embarks us on, which often leaves us with more questions than answers, is the rekindling and fostering of an interrupted but ancient relationship between ourselves and the rest of living world.
Relationships are alchemical processes in which no participant is left unchanged. One of the joys of creating and living in environments that are intentionally porous and inviting to a diversity of relationships, is their transformative nature. As we foster a relationship with the high desert landscape that is host to Arcosanti, our understanding of self and of community re-orients and expands. When I bare witness to the deep connections between the health of the river to that of the trees, the soil, the birds, and beyond— and when I reflect on my own physical, mental and spiritual health— the lines that bound my notion of ‘self’ from that of ‘other’ blur in the overwhelming images of interconnectedness that I’m witness to. The bounds that contain my sense of community also crack open to include the world beyond only humans. In a time that not only begs us to remember radically different and better ways of relating to our natural environment, but also asks us to foster better practices of self care and of community care—Land Stewardship emerges as a practice and role that is essential to reclaim on many scales, that range from (and for) the intimate individual to the vast collective. Beyond pivotal or essential, this practice transforms into a wonderful act of love and reciprocity when we realize that the land we aim to steward has been stewarding us for a long time.
Our land acknowledgement statement highlights key intentions and drivers of the work we strive to accomplish as stewards of the land:
As the current residents and workers on this land, we continue to educate ourselves on the heavy truths of colonization, past and present; and its impact on the planet, people, and life in all its forms. Colonialism is a current ongoing process, and we need to build our mindfulness of our present participation. As we learn and implement, we welcome ideas and inclusive strategies from the elders, and from the future generations that will inherit the planet after us. We commit to work towards decolonizing our understanding of the world around us and our role in it – allowing that to deeply shift how we relate to the abundance of life in all its beautiful diversity, so that we may build more equitable and inclusive spaces. We also acknowledge that decolonization is not a metaphor, but a state of being and action. Therefore, we will continue to work towards, and be open to, the ways in which it can be enacted in the here and now.
It is with gratitude and humility that we acknowledge that we are living, learning and gathering on the ancestral and present day homelands of the Hohokam and Yavapai Apache peoples, the indigenous of this land, in what has been a significant meeting ground for the Hopi and Navajo peoples as well. We pay honor and respect to their elders, both past and present, and to their future generations. We are grateful to learn from their past and present relationship to the land. We embrace the responsibility to act as conscientious stewards of this land originally cared for by them. We work on un-learning individualistic and materialistic values of a destructive and oppressive industrial paradigm and begin our return to a worldview that views humankind as connected and not superior to the life around them. We are all descendants of people that once lived in deep relationship with the land. We look up to the ways in which indigenous peoples all over the world have traditionally related to the land in a way that considers nature as sacred and acknowledges humanity as a part of it. We strive to reconnect with our own ancestral teachings, while respecting that of others, as we make collective shifts to be in better relationship with our planet and each other.
Lastly, we honor and are deeply grateful for the abundant high desert landscape and the Agua Fria River that is host to Arcosanti, home to us, and teacher to those who listen.
-Statement written on behalf of The Cosanti Foundation by Ana Catalina Vázquez Ramírez, Cortina Jenelle, and Noémie Despland-Lichtert
As we work to continue to define, enact, and refine what it is for The Cosanti Foundation and the Arcosanti community to be stewards of this dynamic land we call home, we dance between two primary roles — that of students of the land (chronicling), and that of caretakers (engaging). Here are a few examples of the primary techniques we are currently using.
Chronicling the Land
We utilize chronicling as a process of intentional observation. Documenting what we’re observing allows us to paint a picture and to tell a story of what the landscape is today — in order to track changes overtime to help us better understand our impact. We create this baseline of what the landscape is now to pass on that knowledge to the future generations of land stewards.
This project of tracking our wild kin has its inception with the Friends of Agua Fria National Monument, a group that stewards and advocates for The Agua Fria National Monument. The monument, adjacent to the Arcosanti site, is a 71,000-acre “expansive mosaic of semi-desert” landscape and “one of the most significant systems of prehistoric sites in the American Southwest”. Adam C. Stein, PhD, a wildlife biologist, professor at ASU, and a friend of the Agua Fria, invited Arcosanti to participate in a study of the wildlife along the Agua Fria River.
The study will monitor mammals for six-week intervals during three biologically important time periods throughout the year; The winter (lowest temperatures), the dry summer (highest temperatures and scarce water), and the wet summer (high temperatures but consistent water available due to monsoons). The photos will be uploaded to a database that assists with categorization to determine trends over seasons, years, and habitats. These documented observations will allow us to understand patterns, track species abundance, and identify the important and key habitats of our more-than-human neighbors.
We set up a camera on the dry arroyo (creek) that runs along the south border of our built-site. So far we have observed an abundance of foxes, some javelina, families of deer, solo skunks and swift rabbits that commute and inhabit this (mostly) dry arroyo. We have begun to gain insights into just how animated, by elusive beings, our seemingly quiet corridors are.
Post-fire Land Recovery
Earlier this year a fire burned its way through 282 acres of land that Arcosanti stewards. This provided us with the opportunity to observe, first-hand, what happens to the soil and vegetation of a semi-desert landscape in the aftermath of a simultaneously destructive and life-bringing element, such as fire, running its course. We have been photographing points at twelve different locations in the burnt landscape on a monthly basis, and observing + cataloguing the emerging vegetation, with the goal of better understanding the land’s healing timeline and processes.
Some opportunist species sprouting from the disturbed soil:
Engaging the Land
We engage in a mutualistic relationship with the land that conjures our understanding that we are not only a part of it, but in fact inseparable from it. As we inevitably grow through the fostering of this relationship— we intentionally shift our behavior, our focus, and our resources to engage with our natural environment’s thriving and healing processes — with the purpose of playing an active role in the co-creation of equitable and thriving futures for the human and more-than-human communities.
One of the relationships that we feel called to foster with the most urgency is the relationship with the great pollinators of our ecosystems. Over the past year we have been learning about the native flowers of the Arizona high desert, and the creatures they are host and sustenance to, through the planning and creation of pollinator gardens throughout our site. We are still in the prepping and early stages of the gardens, and we look forward to all we have yet to learn and to welcoming more people along on the journey.
Riparian habitats across the world, but particularly in desert environments, are sensitive and incredibly important ecosystems. Industries of all kinds often pose a threat to the balance and the resources of this areas. In Arizona, the unregulated grazing of cattle in riparian areas has had a heavy impact on these ecosystems, and the Agua Fria River that runs through our site has been no exception. We are now working with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to develop and execute a plan for the restoration and conservation of our riparian habitat. The plan includes:
- The building of new wildlife-friendly fences to control the impact of cattle in the river
- The planting of new generations of cottonwood and willow trees to help hold the eroding river edge and provide necessary habitat for wildlife
- The thinning of the mesquite bosques, the removal of displaced plant species, and the planting of native grasses and vegetation to help restore the natural complexity of these plant communities
The image at the beginning of this post shows us walking along the 2-mile Arcosanti portion of the Agua Fria with Karlee and and Xavier from NRCS this past winter.
We look forward to sharing what we learn through our chronicling and engagements with the land — and we welcome support, collaborations, and partnerships — as we continue our mission to discover and restore our role within the expansive community of living beings that surround us, and the world(s) that sustain us.
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