Lingering Questions

Lingering Questions

The summer is coming to a close. The seasonal monsoon rains have returned in full force. Photos of college students paddling trashcans on a regularly flooded street downtown make the front page of Flagstaff’s local newspaper. Elsewhere, the torrent pops off a storm drain and a new murky pond slows traffic down Milton Road. The rains brings its petrichor—the distinct scent of rain created upon impact: droplets colliding with plant oils and soil awaiting their return. Storms get in the way of hiking plans, make you turn around unexpectedly before reaching a summit, erode trails, flood roads. They show up unexpectedly and sometimes linger. They bring a respite, a time to cultivate gratitude. I am wrapping up many weeks of reading, interviewing, listening, and filmmaking. My project on water in and around Flagstaff has taken many twists and turns, beginning first with water scarcity and small-scale agriculture around Flagstaff, and eventually moving into a project about settler colonialism and affective relationships with springs around Flagstaff. At times, I have been overwhelmed by the directions that this film/ethnography project could take. From agriculture to settlement to management to resource-making to perception and human-water relations, the interwoven threads between water and humans almost feels too big a topic to navigate. There are already many well-written books and articles on water in the West. Is this the right direction? Am I overlapping with other research? Is this relevant? What can I offer to the conversation? Still, in moments of doubt, the stories of springs and people offer much to think with—and much to feel. — Nowadays, it seems many people are speaking...
Springs, Science, and Fieldwork

Springs, Science, and Fieldwork

Having left my bottle lower down the mountain, I let the cool water sit in my hands before bringing it to my lips. Apparently, I’m told by one of the scientists nearby, if I were a water connoisseur I would pick up on the particular taste. I’m no connoisseur, though something does taste different. Part of it is simply the rarity of finding water like this in the high mountain desert. Yet water is always present if you pay attention: in rosebush leaves and fleshy cacti, in the insects caught in bug nets, under the fur of the rodents who did not fall for the Quaker oatmeal traps, in the flesh of my own hands, spring water cupped, slipping through fingers. Springs inhabit a lively space in this land. They are places of emergence, intersections between diverse surface and subsurface ecological communities, fascinating places for an ecologist. They are also spaces charged by contested land rights, resource management, and difficult (and violent) historical encounters. As canaries of the groundwater coal mine,1 they are dynamic, and like all bodies of water in the desert, feel like miracles to come across. Water is certainly scarce in Northern Arizona, though there is no shortage of stories that springs take part in. Around Flagstaff, a small city at the base of the volcanic San Francisco Peaks, springs sustained human life long before Coronado and his conquistadors came searching for gold in the 1500s and named the mountain Sierra Sin Agua, or “mountains without water.”2 Presently, springs are undergoing immense change. I’m working on my Anthropology/Environmental Studies senior thesis this summer, which is focused...