Friday, January 23, 2009

Nothing like girlfriends on a roadtrip to clear your mind about what to do with your life

Girlfriends fleeing the everyday -- we all love our lives, but our lives trap us and before we know it, another year is gone. It's January. We're caravanning to the Valley, headed for Betty's ranch north of Mission. She has a guest house where we'll all sleep. We'll cook and socialize in the house her mother stayed in when she came out regularly. We'll sit in a circle around the fire under the stars. We'll bird (that's us to the right, in a bird blind in Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge). We'll canoe the Rio Grand. We'll see the Wall. We'll talk.

I'm riding down with Kirsti and Rose. I'm wearing the ethnographer's hat this weekend (it's invisible), planning to participate in and observe birding. What I really want is to ask my friends what they think I should do with my life. They know me, and they know conservation and environmentalism in Texas. So, we talk about who birds, the continuum of birding experiences, from a few hours at Bright Leaf to 3 weeks in New Guinea, from listers to naturalists who only get 5 yards down the path before they're lured off by some plant. Eventually, we come to it: birding is about other things besides birding.

It's Zen. The process is enough. Rose recommends I read Stroke of Insight. She says she learned about left and right brain integration sitting on Hawk Mountain where 3 hours would go by and she lost track. Some of birding is left brain (hunting, focusing, calculating, etc.) and part is being in and a part of nature in a deep way. We all get this immediately. It's central to why we bird.

Discussion is great, but it's not the thick of things. I got that the next day when we birded Bentsen Rio Grand State Park and the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. I took notes for about 30 minutes. Yep. That's all it took. I'm not writing about birding.

I wonder about things I don't know. I wonder about people like the Ayers and how they came to be interested in leaving part of the ranch land they have acquired to the public. How or why have they chosen to share what they have. I want to know that story. And I want to know the stories that others might tell about why and how they decided to give back. Or should I call it giving forward? They see themselves in relation to the land differently from the person who only possesses it as property.

I doubt that birding has much to do with conservation directly. It probably indirectly affects it, through stimulating the economies of birding areas, encouraging preservation of high-quality habitat to attract eco-tourism dollars. And birders contribute membership dues and donations to organizations that conserve and preserve (Audubon, Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club). Even that seems tenuous. But I'm clear now. I don't want to know more about birding as an activity.

You know, it's funny. I just want to be in the zone, be out there. I love the left brain/right brain integration birding instantly accomplishes without the least effort. But that is separate from my interest in the commons.

I want to learn how to promote and protect the commons. All kinds of commons: the copyright commons; the commons of public lands and land trusts; the commons of trusts and foundations. Peter Barnes mentioned in Capitalism 3.0 that we would have a regulatory window of opportunity some day, and that we'd have to take quick advantage of it because it wouldn't last long. I think we have it right now after the bank meltdown, in the midst of world-wide recession. I want to fly through that window. I'll choose a commons, learn more about it, read as much as I can, and then get involved in an organization and see where it takes me.

Terri says Bob Ayers would be happy to talk to me about how his family got into land trusts for the Shield Ranch. And Valarie mentioned the Pedernales and Devil's River projects, both of which could offer case studies in the well-done land trust/conservation easement. "Good intentions: Ensuring a boom time for legacy" still holds appeal, 3 weeks later. That's a good sign.

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