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Others Index         Katharine Cook Main Page

Kathy Cook writes

Incantation for People Tending the Watershed

Because There was Lagunitas School


Incantation for People Tending the Watershed


     Advocating for human-scale stormwater intervention during a monster storm requires an act of faith, which finds me here writing that the stories of 2007 that most touched my heart were those describing how folks came together to restore wholeness and dynamic function to West Marin watersheds.  People and agencies collaborated to accomplish healing of the land. They arranged ways to share resources to benefit local populations at Pine Gulch Creek, Lagunitas School, and Redwood Creek Watershed. Wow.

     Although technology was involved, for most of us it is enough to begin by learning to see a watershed as a living organism: winter storms land on ridges, on slope cover, spilling, yielding downward to gravity, raised by topography, infiltrating soils, to finally seep into a creek or wetland at its base.

     My first lessons were given by Brock Dolman, of the WATER Institute at OAEC, at Bioneers 2005. Through Gaian imagery and mantras, I came to see shapes of the land in relation to water, and how human-scale stormwater management models a way to attend to our “basin of relations”  to protect its life, and ours.  

     Brock teaches through word and image, simply, creatively.  An aerial photograph of a stream meander reveals the paucity of the “pipe it and pump it” paradigm industry has short-changed us with.  To see the fullness of landshapes and waterflow alive and interdependent is to return us our inheritance.  To conceptualize the potentiality of water held in slopes, as capacity; the topography of the sacred feminine --  mound, mons, sucking spiral vortices, container --   in relation to the conveyance and protection of fluids – is the hydrology we require to mitigate climate change.    

    This knowledge is available to us from a watershed.  The most beautiful strong good thing I have seen recently is a log, well-placed, anchored across a gravel-mined stream bed, allowing for the upwelling of deep cold water for the spawning of fish. In this sculpture, one recognizes our species’ inherent capacity to tend Nature for the sake of its own thriving.

Slow It, Spread It, Sink It

        Brock teaches practical, low impact, surface-water management for roads, parking lots and home properties: us redirecting rivulets with hand tools. Flood prevention begins with intercepting stormwater, preventing its downrushing siltladen force --  as in pre-restoration Redwood Creek watershed --  from dumping on, damaging what’s below. Conversely stormwater diverted into and along small ridges, berms and swales, angled correctly against the flow, can be collected for future fruitful use. At Lagunitas School, rains captured from the lunch-shed roof get piped to a cistern storing water for the summer garden. On the flat, rains are sunk into the ground to nourish Lagunitas Creek.

Retain It, Don’t  Drain It

     At OAEC, a steep dismal logged-over slope, channeled with silt-bearing runoff was transfigured by conservation hydrology to:


     Restore hardwood and mixed evergreen forest

     Reduce fuel load and enhance fire resiliency

     Promote soil water retention

     Recharge groundwater

     Recover biological and botanical diversity

     Create stream accessibility 

     Manifest beauty

     Over ten years, Douglas firs were felled; saplings, branches cut, gathered,  and stuffed into gullies. At each trap, sediment gathered rebuilding soil, groundwater recharge made moisture available to plant and animal life.  No silting up of the stream below; no salmon aquatic travel space clouded.  The fuel load for a potentially destructive forest fire becomes earth and water.

Basins of Relations

          The watershed slope re-emerges with its native flora intact, yielding nutrient-rich flow to its meadows and woodlands.  On the ridge, a large pond (6 acre feet) catches rainfall to provide irrigation for 3 acres of organic gardens below.  A meadow of native grasses (Nassella pulchra, Danthonia californica, Elymus glaucus) and wildflowers is wrested from the tangle of Scotch and French broom.  Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) , madrone (Arbutus menziessi) and California bay Laurel (Umbellularia californica) flourish with the thinning of the Douglas fir (Pseutotsuga menziesii).

          The values of the restoration --  ecological, economic -- are immeasurable. The cost, mindful human attention applied in repeated, careful steps.                                      

Don’t Use It, Don’t Need It

     To conserve water use less.  In neighborhoods, property owners can intercept stormwater and redirect it.  Converting a lawn from a summer-wet climate, to one adapted to dry, benefits the whole watershed.  An aromatic mowable lawn of wild yarrow (Achillea millefolium) offers flowers, pollen, a groundcover friendly to dog romps, an even greater gift.  On estates, farms and ranches, rain catchment in ponds and cisterns localizes water supply. To “think it”, is to  capture of winterrain as close to where it will be needed  come summer as possible.   

The Joys of a Restored Landscape     

     I take solace from the peace and sufficiency potentials inherent in the Pine Gulch Creek diversions; Lagunitas School Rain Gardens; and Redwood Creek Watershed Restoration.  A rural landscape restored to a cover of native vegetation that contributes to local water supply through soil infiltration pleases me greatly. Interspersed with upland meadows , I see slopes of mixed evergreen forest, softly-colored hues of coastal scrub, farms crossed with wildlife corridors.  Hedgerows provide fencing, flowers, nectar, pollen,and berries for us, small birds and animals.  It smells good, and can begin, and be fed by stormwater management, by people on the land.

Because There was Lagunitas School, Mill Valley Saw

            I’ve been casting about for how to share my feelings about our “water luminaries” panel in Mill Valley, January 22.  Love, gratitude, and awe, come to mind, but the essence was the feeling of having touched the heart of Nature together.  Shown it by another, moved to take action, engaging with others to produce an event to widen that circle, and bringing those who lead to those who seek.  Inspired by love for a stretch of Old Mill Creek.  

          The precipitating cause was a visit to Lagunitas School by civic and agency folks from East Marin to learn about rain catchment and storage  as put together there by Brock Dolman of OAEC, Paula Bouley of SPAWN, and Rick Misuraca of Mill Valley Parks and Rec.  It was the “seeing with one’s own eyes” rain catchment on the lunch shed roof, piped to a cistern situated to provide irrigation for the summer garden, that got the concept across.  

          All that had me close to tears, as I took in the words, and imagery of men whose work I admire in watershed restoration and landscape  – Brock, again, always; Michael Thilgen of Four Dimensions Landscape and Dan Carney of MMWD.  As we several hundred sat close in this big, new Mill Valley hall, the interest and engagement of those present were tangible.  It felt to me a perfect call and response -- the way of both genetic evolution and spiritual inquiry.  Tender, indeed, to be acknowledged as a convener, but what most moved my heart was knowing together that we are to renew, and relearn our relationship to water, to the heart of Nature; that we have good and gifted people to show the way. It is the momentum of that seeking with others that is the powerful current that will carry us forward.    


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