Bosque

A series of images exploring the bosque along the banks of the Rio Grande in the heart of Albuquerque. All prints are selenium toned gelatin silver.

Bosque Idyll installation, 2008

Bosque Grids

This forest is dead. New Mexico definitively killed it in 1973 when Cochiti Dam was completed, fulfilling a decades-long attempt to normalize the flow of water along the Rio Grande, to prevent floods, and control sediment build-up. What the Army Corps of Engineers did not consider is that the ecosystem of the river evolved around regular flooding and sediment build-up. Tasked with tidying up the place, the Corps was helping water compacts be fulfilled, as well as ensuring riverfront property didn’t become mid-river property. For nearly 40 years the Rio Grande bosque has been slowly dehydrating. Without regular floods, there are no young native cottonwood trees and the Silvery Minnow has lost its breeding grounds. Tamarisk, a water-thirsty exotic species, has taken root with a vengeance. The dry forest catches on fire, and the jetty jacks (an earlier attempt to channelize the river) prevent fire teams from reaching the blazes; they become raging infernos.

Simultaneously, the forest is a refuge. Stretching nearly 200 miles, much of the land within the Albuquerque city limits has been acquired by municipal government and turned into publicly accessible open space and park systems. There are multiple walking and biking trails through the trees. It’s quiet; the hum of the city is distant, the gurgle of the river is constant. Coyotes can be seen in the ghostly, pre-dawn light. Demonstration projects, oases designed by scientists, point to the possibility of healing the ecosystem and restoring what was lost. They are small plots proving that we can create, as well as destroy.

I walk through this space with my toy camera, observing and reflecting on the conflicting realities of the bosque. A corpse. A refuge. A possibility. Greater issues, the big ideas that philosophers and theologians have grappled with for eons seem nearby. Is there any decency in us if we suffocate the land where we live? Is the greed responsible for sub-prime mortgages any surprise when we have so readily destroyed vast tracts of land to harness natural resources? Is there a strange justice to riverfront mansions up for sale in a crumbling economy? Are our bumbling attempts to discover new solutions to decades-old ecological damage inspiring, or darkly humorous? I hope that my photographs of the Rio Grande bosque might capture some of these contradictions, and the eerie beauty of this place that hangs by a thread.