Watershed Arts Center
RisingLeaf Watershed Arts Education
Carmel River Watershed Learning Map
Watershed Festival of Life
A Watershed Experience
Carmel River Steelhead Rescue
Storm Drain Stenciling
World Water Day
Spectacular Alaska Trip Raffle

Watershed Festival of Life

The purpose of the festival is to celebrate the Carmel River through art and science and help to educate people on how we can care for the watersheds that sustain our lives. Understanding our place in the Carmel River watershed, and all watersheds, has the potential to bring people together as “watershed citizens” through the common flow of water.
Freeman House giving his talk on "Watershed Citizenship"

 Excerpt from his talk follows… Copyright, Freeman House, 2004
Why Watershed?

Why this relatively rapid development? In those same twenty years, global environmental concerns have become an uninterrupted disaster siren. Our anxiety increases each day about our apparent powerlessness to do much about things like global overheating, ozone depletion, the health of the oceans, and on and on.

A whole lot of people seem to have come to a similar conclusion at the same time: if global problems seem too large for most people to grapple with (and how comforting by itself can an annual contribution to the Sierra Club be?) it is within our reach to assume some responsibility for our home places. Clean water is a good organizing principle, and so are native salmon and steelhead. A watershed of a certain size offers a reasonable scale of endeavor that’s a good fit for human visceral and mental capabilities—on both the levels of the individual and the community.

The watershed is a simple construct. Since water runs downhill, every drop that falls runs down one side of a ridge or another, and gathers into creeks and sub-drainages that eventually combine into a river system that gives the watershed its name. Most every person, urban or rural, consciously or unconsciously, has some visceral experience of their watershed each day--through glimpses of waterways or ridgelines that surround and infuse their local places. Further, watersheds organize themselves into a hierarchy of scales: spring to swale and tributary to river. The individual can approach the construct at any scale that suits their particular imagination or skill. The community can transform these individual relationships into a scale appropriate to its size and level of organization.

Two pairs of eyes are better than one. In fact two pairs of eyes are better than two, because in the complexity of any part of the natural world, any pair of eyes is going to pick up different patterns, different details. Combine those two sets of perceptions and already you have a new ferment that has a life of its own.

Watersheds are hydrological rather than biotic units, so there is still a lot of cause-and-effect happening out there. Water runs down hill and carries a lot of stuff with it. You don't want to invest a lot of energy in shoring up a stream bank when half a mile upstream a massive landslide is poised to wipe out your work.

Therefore, watersheds require systematic attention and there is really no one better placed to do it than the people who live on or near the creek. And of course, once you begin such an engagement—once you have the experience under your belt of having built some stream bank armoring structures, or cabled in some large woody debris, or woven willow wattles, or planted some alders along trashed channels—your learning curve both individually and collectively is going to take a very steep turn upward. You’ll know more than the bureaucrats do in an amazingly short time.

Once you get to monitoring the biotic characteristics of the waterway, it’s an endless task, and there is literally no one else that can take note of the changes from season to season and from year to year but the people who live here.

Do this with a group of comrades and neighbors for a few years, and an interesting thing begins to happen. Without thinking much about it, you’ll have become related through the landscape that runs through your lives. You’ll begin to take on some of the aspects of a single entity with many pairs of eyes.

I’d like to sum up by making a few claims on which I hope we can agree:

1) Watershed restoration is essential to our emerging identity as watershed denizens and citizens. There’s a point of no return in the destruction of natural processes and other creatures beyond which we’ll be living somewhere else, in a world entirely of our own construct.  At that point any talk of watershed citizenship will be a moot point.
2) Watershed restoration is perhaps the most effective ways to learn the things we need to know to live in place.
3) Modern industrial humans have only been in these western coast watersheds for a little over 150 years. It may take that long or longer to restore any meaningful amount of what has been lost. Therefore, we must look to the arts and to the schools to provide the generational continuity that is necessary to our effort. Congratulations to all of you here today who are already working in that direction.
4) As denizens becoming citizens, it is an indication of the primitive nature of our progress that so many of our efforts are on behalf of a negative position. What not to put in the water, how not to treat the soil, particular things that must not be put in the air, or in the landfill. Necessary resistance, yes, but we need to shift more of our focus toward positive futures. What are the businesses and industries that might be called restorative businesses and industries—activities that put food on the table at the same time as they improve the health of the watershed? A model for this is the way in which organic farming improves the soil even as it produces our food. Our need to take food and shelter from the places we live is not going to disappear. It may be, in fact, that our most effective resistance to the negative aspects of globalization will be to increase our local self-reliance.
5) Sometimes we’re going to be working beside people, our neighbors, whose worldview and philosophy is different from our own. I’m sometimes asked what is the best thing I’ve learned from working at watershed restoration and I usually answer that I’ve learned how to listen. I’ve learned ever so much more from people that don’t agree with me than from people who do. The consensual process is not so much a political tool as it is a tool for community building.

It may be that the consensus process is to community building as public hearings are to democracy as prayer is to spiritual practice. The practice is demanding, the outcome is uncertain, but this is the work we must endure.

The faith that keeps me going is the belief that such a large part of our human social prehistory has been organized around a worldview that makes human satisfaction inseparable from the health and abundance of the immediate landscape. California aboriginal peoples in particular?among the most culturally diverse populations the world knew at the time of contact?tended to organize their tribal identities within watersheds. So much of our time on the planet has been organized around similar world-views that the cultural aberrations of the last 500 to 5,000 years of civilization are but a blink of evolutionary time. So much of our time on the planet was spent in communion with the local landscape that I believe we all walk around with the genetic imperative to recover that intimacy. That no true fullness of being is available to us until we recover that intimacy.

We’re here today to celebrate that understanding. Celebration is an essential part of our work. In my home watershed there are not only several annual celebrations of the place, but each year the schools conduct an annual watershed week, during which all the curricula is organized around local phenomena. Then all the schools come together for a watershed day, a celebration. Each year, that day resembles more and more a gathering of watershed denizens on their way to becoming watershed citizens.