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Foto Friday: Pondering "nature" photography and Dog Days of summer
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This morning some social media post informed me, erroneously it turns out, that today is #NaturePhotographyDay. During the several moments that passed between seeing the post and realizing that the special day was actually a month ago, I scrambled through my digital files in search of a nature photo or two.
As I sorted through hundreds of images, I began to wonder what, exactly, qualifies as a nature photo. My first thought was that it would be devoid of any sign of humanity: An image of a bear, for example, walking across an untrammeled mountain meadow.
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I don’t have any images like that. Okay, I have a few closeups of dragonflies or lizards or flowers. But other than that, every single “nature” image I’ve taken has some sign of humanity, whether it’s a pumpjack, an ancient structure, an agricultural field, a rusty old car, or a fencepost on which a bird sits. That’s not because I’m particularly visually inclined toward the nexus of “nature” and “humanity,” (though I am) but because the idea of pristine, absolutely untrammeled nature — of a wilderness devoid of human impact or influence — is absurd. It doesn’t exist and hasn’t existed since humans first walked this earth.
That’s not a novel concept, of course. And the photos I’ve chosen to put here mostly show not just the mingling of humans and nature, but the incursion of nature by industry. This has all sorts of impacts on the land, water, and air, not to mention on the health of the beings that inhabit and are a part of nature.
But when it comes to pure aesthetics, when it comes to the images themselves, does the presence of the pumpjack and turbine detract? Or add something? I’m not sure.
So, yeah, it’s not Nature Photography Day, but we are entering the Dog Days of summer. Which is to say it’s frigging hot. In fact, the Earth as a whole experienced its hottest day on record on July 4, a record that fell the following day and was shattered again the day after that. Records only go back to 1979. But modeling suggests that it’s been hotter these last few days than it has been for over 100,000 years, the result, as you may have surmised, of human-caused climate change (which, in turn, is the result mostly of fossil fuel combustion).
This may seem strange to a lot of you in the Land Desk coverage zone, since much of June was downright mild, temperature-wise. In the Grand Junction area, for example, the mercury climbed as high as 97 degrees F in late June, sure, but the average high for the month was only 86.4 F, three degrees below “normal.” Heck, even Phoenix was cooler than normal, with an average high temperature of 103 F for June. Ouch. (I guess it’s all relative, right?)
And maybe you’ve noticed that you can actually see and breathe the air this year (unless you’re in the Midwest or the East Coast, which were blanketed with Canadian wildfire smoke). That’s because the West is, so far, experiencing the mildest fire season in over a decade. Thus far fires have burned across 678,000 acres since Jan. 1. The 10-year, year-to-date average is 2.1 million.
But that was June, this is July, and now the weather maps are riddled with excessive heat and red flag fire weather warnings and blazes are beginning to pop up here and there across the West. The Tunnel Five Fire, just on the Washington side of the Columbia River, has burned only 556 acres, but has destroyed structures and forced evacuations. The Brushy Fire in southwest New Mexico is at about 5,600 acres and is 0% contained, but currently threatens no structures. A couple of fires are burning near Pagosa Springs, too. If conditions remain hot and dry, it could render quite flammable all of that nice, lush vegetation that sprouted after the wet winter and spring.
Here’s hoping for a healthy monsoon and that 2023’s Dog Days aren’t as grim as those chronicled by Homer in The Iliad:
Priam saw him first, with his old man's eyes,
A single point of light on Troy's dusty plain.
Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion's Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity.
Achilles' bronze gleamed like this as he ran.
As I was reading a friend’s copy of the New Yorker the other day, I was intrigued by this paragraph:
Last year, Pilvi Takala, who lives in Helsinki and Berlin, represented her home country at the Venice Biennale, where a curatorial statement noted that her work explores “how the neoliberal conflation of civic spaces and commerce has created a nebulous boundary that privileges consumer over citizen.”
The part that got me was the quote. I mean, I’m not sure about the “neoliberal conflation” thing, but if you swap out “civic spaces” for “public lands,” it gets kind of interesting. It seems to me that more and more, public land and commerce have become conflated, which has, in turn, commodified and gentrified those lands and the nearby communities. And that ends up privileging the consumer over the citizen — and bringing wealth inequality to wild spaces.
I think that’s part of the reason the proliferation of “glampgrounds” bugs me. Sure, if some sucker wants to spend $500 a night to stay in a canvas-lined hotel room, that’s their problem, right? Maybe. But then, again, this is just one of many examples where folks are commodifying — and profiting off of — the land, the view, the more-or-less clean air. The same goes for the likes of Amangiri resort, which sits among sandstone dunes west of Glen Canyon. Staying there will set you back more than $4,000 per night (pro tip: Go in the scorching heat of July and it will cost you only $3,600!)
But enough of my ranting. Proposals for establishing new glampgrounds are beginning to run into opposition. A group of Moab-area citizens, for example, formed the La Sal Mountain Alliance to push back on a planned glamping resort on Utah School and Institutional Trust Land near the Castle Valley. They’re more concerned about environmental impacts than about commodification of the wild.
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