Entering the Bosque

Photo:Rosemary Dudley

The bosque is a narrow strip of cottonwood forest on both sides of the Rio Grande, a wild river ecosystem running the length of New Mexico and right through the heart of its major city, Albuquerque. A few years ago, the mayor of Albuquerque put forth a plan for a new bike trail through this forest. We did not need a new trail. There were already walking trails beside the river and a bike trail on the levee on the east side of the forest, but he wanted a trail right through the forest, so people could be down among the trees as they rode. His goal was that more citizens of Albuquerque would enter the bosque and learn to enjoy it.

A number of environmental organizations protester: it is narrow strip of land, quietly using a wild ecosystem. A wide, smooth trail would promote rapid biking and disrupt the lives of the animals there. We lost our plea for a different kind of trail, one what would make people slow down and take in the forest around them. The new trail did achieve its stated goal: many more people now enter the bosque, using this trail to walk or ride, some very rapidly, and they seem to be enjoying it. But are they really seeing the richness that is there? The dialogue about the new trail opened up the question in my mind: what does it mean to enter the bosque?

When I moved to Albuquerque 20 years ago, I happened to buy a home near the bosque. Influenced by some reading I was doing about indigenous ways of knowing, I decided to try to learn the ecosystem of the bosque simply by spending a lot of time there, observing it in all seasons, all times of day and night, and purposely not learn the scientific names for species, nor depending on book knowledge. I had never lived in the southwest high desert before, so it was all new to me. I walked there almost daily, and kept my eyes, ears, and all senses open, just taking it in, day after day after day. Admittedly this was a bit of a romantic notion, and I knew I could never copy how traditional indigenous people actually learn their ecosystems because I had no culture handing knowledge down to me, and was not dependent on this forest for my livelihood. Plus, I was starting late in life. But it has been a fulfilling and rewarding experiment. This was only a beginning…

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