Subtle hills – long, tan, grassy – rippled out from the foot of what would be called Colorado’s Front Range. It was the western edge of the Great Plains, and the field was as unresolved as any drop in the sea, as any few acres in that ocean of grass. Bison may have grazed here; wolves and blond grizzlies may have loped through. That would have been wholly unremarkable before this place became a speck on a map, before there were any maps, before the place was defined.
Now, it is a field. A roughly 25 acre stretch of land along an artificial creek, surrounded on every side by urban development, crisscrossed by trails and sporting more weeds than native grasses. Its southern border is defined by a short, steep hill and the fencing on top – people’s back yards, and the chain link fence of an elementary school. On the west, down the hill, the creek is squeezed by little league baseball fields, while uphill sits the neighborhood park and swimming pool. The north boundary is 106th Avenue. The east is defined by more back yards, a developed park, and a high school.
As an ecosystem, it’s about as disturbed as one can get, an infinitesimal fragment isolated from a hugely fragmented whole. No bison will ever set hoof here again. Instead, scores of people every day stroll, walk dogs, ride bikes, or head to school and back. It exists for recreation, and to provide a handy shortcut to one school or the other, one park or the other. And it does those things very well. Yet it still manages to support a few beautiful vestiges of nature. Songbirds perch on the cattails. Hawks come through in season, looking for lunch from a small colony of prairie dogs. Bats dance in summer evenings, gobbling mosquitoes. A family of foxes dens on the hill, feeding on field mice and prairie dogs. There are a few great old cottonwoods, probably some stealthy raccoons, and even a transient coyote or two. Did I mention the prairie dogs?
My stake in the area is both emotional and intellectual. It’s a part of my home, my backyard, and part of my psyche comes from there and resides there; I love it and the animals and plants that live there; I find beauty there. I’ve also come to see it, by what people have done to it and do to it – by people’s relationship with it – as a microcosm of larger socio-environmental issues in which I am interested.
So I feel compelled to observe the place and record those observations, and I have for several years. My journal’s first entries were very brief, “fox tracks in fresh snow; raptor,” for instance, but have grown increasingly detailed. I’ll recount all my previous entries to bring things up to speed, and go from there.