(Published October 2007 in Murray Bolesta's "The Borderlands Photographer" in Tubac Villager.)
|A mule deer fawn on my front "lawn."|
By way of introduction, this column is a proud new addition to a fine publication. The Villager was founded at about the same time as I began my photography in borderlands Arizona. Perhaps a gap was filled in both arenas. In any case, they tell me that in the laws of physics, a vacuum automatically will be filled.
The Villager trumpets the village of Tubac and its environs in much the same way that I celebrate borderlands Arizona and its natural, rural, and cultural heritage. The virtues of the village, its talented residents and merchants, and this area, are many and worth shouting about to the world. But, as one concerned with the preservation of those qualities, I walk the fine line, perhaps as this newspaper does, between exploitation and conservation.
Publicizing and romanticizing a particular area and thus, attracting attention to it, has always been a double-edged effort, with the risk of stimulating economic activity which degrades the original charm and gentle qualities. Hard-working realtors know this: the more you build, the less you have of what you built on and for, except money. Using up land makes the remaining land more valuable. They tell me that’s economics.
|House cat versus wild Bobcat.|
As a nature photographer writing this column I’m guilty as charged, referring to places that may or may not be “secret”, and which eventually could bear the brunt of increased visitation over time, perhaps a little influenced by my words and pictures. These places, including your backyard, do not stand to benefit from the economic impact of this visitation. If they had their way, they'd be left alone. That’s what I believe open spaces want, if they could voice an opinion, and that’s why I chose to celebrate them as a core element of my borderlands Arizona photography.
I try, in my way, to preserve what’s left of open spaces. This is the 21st century, after all, and not the era prior to the Civil War when ranching had not yet gone a bit overboard in its belief that borderland Arizona’s grasslands would last forever. It’s not, either, the era around 1940 when this area witnessed a surge of Hollywood film-making as when Gary Cooper filmed “The Westerner” near modern-day Green Valley, with a wild and unimpeded Santa Cruz Valley and Madera Canyon clearly visible in the background.
|A javelina. Isn't he cute?|
This is a late era in borderland Arizona’s history, witnessing a distressing amount of economic activity based primarily, as always, on the exploitation of local natural resources. But luckily, for the outdoor enthusiast, many of these attributes begin a few feet from your front door and still extend way out over the horizon. Arizona, even these days, is a place where wildness meets your backyard.
Sun-drenched borderlands Arizona is a place that scientists call a bio-geographical transitional area, the site of a confluence of many climate regions. Further, this area showcases the “biotic communities” defined by extremes of elevation, from the low desert scrub to the high mixed conifer forest. This brilliant mixture forms an unexpected diversity for the borderlands photographer, and the signs of this mixture show up in your backyard.
A backyard here, I think, should remain natural, without grassy lawn or plants that are not native to this area. In any case, many residents live in neighborhoods that generally contain more water and plant habitat than the surrounding natural wild areas. Even if your plants are native, they probably receive more tender loving care than they get in the wild. Therefore, you have visitors who want them.
|A tiny pincushion cactus|
near my front window.
The critters that come to enjoy your neighborhood often don’t know what they’re in for. A land of plenty seems at hand for them, and they go for it. But they might get a bit too close for comfort, and encounter a moving vehicle, a fire department officer summoned to extract them, or some other official whose job is to serve and protect the human species.
More often than not, though, if you let the wild critter sniff around and eventually continue on his way, things will be fine.
So far, this has been my experience. My backyard has been a delight for a photographer. Further, I’ve benefited from a special early warning system telling me that something’s out there: my cat. When my nose is buried in a book and I’m ignorant of outside activities, my cat often makes some strange noises and I then know that I should grab a camera.
|A horned lizard.|
Backyard borderlands Arizona photography has one great advantage. It’s convenient and nearby. No strenuous and sweaty treks into the outback are necessary. Photography is a fine excuse to get outside, even if it’s just to your yard.
You are the borderlands photographer, and you should remember one important rule. You must always have a camera ready and convenient. That is, it must have a charged battery and, if digital, have some space left on the card, and if film, have a roll inside. With critters especially, the first chance you have to take a picture is almost always the last or best chance. Your camera is a six-gun.
All images in this month’s column were photographed by me in my back (or front) yard in the "hip and happening” community of Green Valley.