In September 2016 I began a three month residency with the Santa Fe Art Institute. The project focused on the riparian restoration that had taken place along the Santa Fe River in La Cieneguilla, the effluent treated water that flows west to Cochiti Pueblo where it joins the Rio Grande. In November, I presented my 3 month immersion into this complex stretch of river and the beaver ponds that altered the land and soundscape of the place I’ve called home for 27 years, an epic story, in 140 seconds. SFAI 140 is a quarterly event at SFAI turning epic into haiku? Nearly a year later, the river is back to it’s tidy channel, waiting for a 100 year flood. I continue to photograph and investigate the now dry ponds, listening for bullfrogs who’ve moved further down the canyon.
SFAI 140 November 2016
“I’m not vegan and I kill mice.I never thought about water rights until 2012 when beavers appeared in the Santa Fe River near my home in La Cieneguilla.
For 28 years I’ve lived on one of the earliest Spanish land grants in the United States, the site of a once thriving Keres Village. In riparian restoration terms, I’m non-native.
The beavers, who are native and reside on the upper Santa Fe River canyon and west at Cochiti Pueblo, took down the cottonwoods and red willow planted by Wild Earth Guardians in 2008.
Beaver is a keystone species, recognized for creating habitat for other species and filtering water. I was enchanted by the slow, meandering wetlands but the farmers downriver were not- –the dams were impeding the flow for irrigation.
I was told that no beavers ever lived in this stretch of river. Rumors circulated they’d been introduced by WildEarth Guardians.
Last March, at a county commissioners meeting, those opposing the beaver asked for extrication of what was presented as a nuisance. I imagined beaver being picked out, and, to paraphrase John Muir, I saw everything in the universe attached to them, and in jeopardy.
I questioned my water rights- Do I have a voice here? I found myself between those with traditional water rights and ‘those’ environmentalists.
As an artist who works with allegory and metaphor, I welcome the beaver as a place-holder for the wild, creative- destructive life force, clearing way for the new.
November 1 marked the end of the 7-month open season on beavers. A county investigator recently reported no signs of activity. Were they hunted out? Perhaps the endocrine disrupters in the water affected reproduction.
No bodies have been recovered – no toxicology reports exist. As mysterious as they arrived, the beaver have disappeared —at least for now.