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LITERATURE

 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
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April 21, 2008
The road to Sacramento, and the hospital where I receive care from a kidney specialist, is ever changing. Driving east on Highway 37 across the vast marshlands north of San Francisco Bay, I've been struck by the vast expanse of open space where the highway meets the water's edge. In the twenty years I've been driving the narrow I-80 stretch of the corridor, I have witnessed how the small, rural farming towns nearby have exploded into tract-filled, sprawl mall paradises and instant, indistinguishable freeze-dried communities. Driving past the rapid and ferocious development encircling the Bay, one begins to wonder what the true value of the marshlands is, not only in terms of their economic worth or their impact on Californians' health and quality of life but also in terms of the planet's ecological health and the impact of on the diverse species that have but one globe to call home.

As a self-indulgent and indifferent youth, nature rescued me and offered a source of hope and spiritual refuge. Subsequently, as program coordinator for a local Sonoma County environmental education non-profit, I began to notice my stamina deteriorating and increased joint pain while hiking in the field. Blood work revealed a possible chronic renal condition (either IgA nephropathy or Polycystic Kidney Disease) as evidenced by multiple bi-lateral cysts, high toxicity levels and low red blood cell scores. Eventually, while teaching abroad in Thailand in 2004, I was forced to resign because of my worsening condition. Upon my return to the United States I landed a job in El Dorado County and began to pursue the long path toward kidney transplantation at Sacramento's Kaiser Permanente hospital, the drive to which would take me past the tidal marshes of San Francisco Bay.

During the many trips to the capitol, from the house I owned near the coast eastward toward the Sierra, I began to ponder the meandering, brackish tributaries and rivers running throughout the delta not just as bodies of water but as a network of veins and arteries pumping life throughout the entire Bay Area. Pausing to reflect upon the windswept surfaces and contemplate their ecological significance, I began relating to the tidal marsh in the way that scientists and naturalists often do - as the kidneys of the planet, carrying away waste and debris while filtering the heart blood of the estuary with fresh water.

Likening wetlands to such an important human organ is more than anthropomorphism. The ecological niche of the planet's increasingly rare indigenous shrubs and forbs is that of a giant filter and sponge. Through a slow and natural process, wetlands maintain water quality by cleansing the pollutants which pass through them, attracting a rich array of beneficial insects, fish, birds and animals. The fibrous nature of the marsh also creates a tough mesh that, by spreading deep roots outward, resists the invasion of exotic weeds and other plants that are notorious for upsetting biological diversity. The deep penetration of indigenous wetland plant species allows the area to absorb and hold precipitation in the watersheds, preventing devastating flooding and trapping the precious soil moisture that keeps erosion in check. In addition, the wetland's diatoms and grasses provide year-round sources of biomass and forage for both wildlife and domestic livestock.

When attempting to calculate the true economic value of local habitat, we often tend to measure it in terms of agricultural teroire, especially in California's prime growing region with its gentle Mediterranean climate. Land owners often undervalue wetlands, their appraisals tending to consider only the direct benefits they might reap from them, such as farming, hunting, fishing, trapping camp rentals, mineral exploration and their removal.

Faced with the realization of a kidney transplant, and all the contemplation that entails, I have come to the rather obvious but equally overlooked conclusion that the ultimate function of a marshland is its ability to sequester, trans-locate and eliminate toxins. We must remember that waste water dumped into wetlands and estuaries may go through a series of primary and secondary municipal treatments, but virtually never undergoes any tertiary treatment to chemically remove nitrates, phosphates and the like. Before wastewater and agricultural runoff reaches the sea and enters the global food chain, this process of tertiary treatment is left to nature alone. Unmolested by development, these natural areas provide a system for biological life support that we must not ignore. This free service which nature provides must, in turn, be properly evaluated before any kind of subsequent development is considered, in California or elsewhere. Ecological common sense dictates that the true value of the land is far greater than the resources that may be extracted from it or the shoddy tract housing built upon it. In the wake of clearly devastating events like Hurricane Katrina's decimation of the Gulf Coast, considerations of natural recharge, flood conveyance and erosion control should be a no-brainer.

In the summer of 2006, my brother was determined ineligible as a living kidney donor, which was devastating. Fortunately, my best friend stepped up and offered to donate his kidney, which was deemed an acceptable match. While cruising back home to Sonoma County from the foothills to commence proceedings for the transplant in San Francisco, I considered the once seasonal shacks located along the banks of the Petaluma River as reminders of a simpler time. The few ramshackle buildings that remain will soon, like those already bulldozed, be leveled to make room for the new, obscenely large million-dollar properties overwhelming not only the Bay Area, but undeveloped land nationwide. Such McMansions are coveted not only for their proximity to bustling economies and efficient twenty-first century amenities, but also for the backdoor vistas of those swampy, muck-filled marshes and estuaries. While the Bay Area's municipal governments have begun taking steps to preserve as much wetland as the interests of its economic boom are willing to accommodate, their beautiful marshes, where one still dreams of sitting idly, observing the increasingly precious poetic beauty of the moment, watching the clouds and sunset, or waiting for the turning of the tide, continue to be erased.

As complicated, painful, and uncertain as a human kidney transplant is, there exists no procedure as promising for our ecosystems. Every time a wetland is drained, subdivided, and built-up the fate of the planet and the living creatures that inhabit it is sealed a little bit tighter. The true value of health, whether it be that of our own bodies or of our environment, can never be measured in dollars or consumables. As the intangible costs of development - the loss of serenity, harmony and quality of life - continue rising in correlation to our own self-neglect and increasingly crushing and fermented economic footprints, it is the celebration of life's regeneration that makes living joyful, meaningful and fulfilling.

--
Hugh Slesinger
A teacher, naturalist and eco-conscious real estate agent living in Occidental, California, Hugh Slesinger occasionally publishes his insights on life with LAS.

See other articles by Hugh Slesinger.

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