Our Life Force and Legacy

An appeal for Reconciliation Ecology and Land Reengagement along Santa Cruz River

As a kid exploring the dry river bed of the Santa Cruz, I couldn’t imagine the banks lined with anything other than scraggly palo verde and tamarisk trees. I would have rolled my eyes if you told me to listen for the sounds of trickling water and rustling rushes in the shadow of interstate-10. Back then I didn’t know the word bosque and I had never climbed a cottonwood. I didn’t know I lived on stolen land nor the rich heritage and legacy of Chuk-son. I accepted dry, trash littered arroyos as “normal” and one day dreamed of living somewhere with a real river.

Young Tucsonans no longer have to daydream about real rivers. A vibrant green ribbon of life now snakes its way from Silverlake to Congress. To any that would scoff at those referring to the Santa Cruz as a real river, I would remind you that true residents of the arid borderlands  experience water differently others. To be from the desert is to understand grit, gratitude and resilience. The Santa Cruz teaches all of these lessons.  

Riparian corridors like the historic Santa Cruz comprise less than 1% of the ecosystems found across the Western United States. Despite their rarity these ribbons of green life are quintessential to sustaining global biodiversity. These habitats historically served as both cultural and ecological migration corridors and are incredibly endangered.

For millennia the Santa Cruz river braided itself through the Sonoran Desert sandwiched between lush riparian corridors and expansive mesquite bosques. Ideas, goods, and culture have long flowed both north and south along the Santa Cruz. A multitude of diverse species ranging from jaguars to bald eagles, have traveled along the river for thousands of years. Hundreds of bird species called the bosques surrounding the river thier home. In the past 100 years nearly all those bosques have disappeared. A century of reckless urbanization and unjust water politics have left most of our once lush waterways dry and seemingly desolate.

This is why places like the Santa Cruz River and the remaining open space found across the floodplain are so important. They are the sacred places that demonstrate to our youth the truth in our aspirations and in our histories. They embody what it looks like to tend and conserve the land through reciprocity and humility within our ecological communities. It is hard to believe something you have never seen or experienced – these places provide the context for our past stories and vision for the aspirations we have for our shared home. 

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