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LifePlace: Bioregional Thought and Practice

Robert L. Thayer
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 317
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Robert Thayer brings the concepts and promises of the growing bioregional movement to a wide audience in a book that passionately urges us to discover "where we are" as an antidote to our rootless, stressful modern lives.LifePlaceis a provocative meditation on bioregionalism and what it means to live, work, eat, and play in relation to naturally, rather than politically, defined areas. In it, Thayer gives a richly textured portrait of his own home, the Putah-Cache watershed in California's Sacramento Valley, demonstrating how bioregionalism can be practiced in everyday life. Written in a lively anecdotal style and expressing a profound love of place, this book is a guide to the personal rewards and the social benefits of reinhabiting the natural world on a local scale. InLifePlace,Thayer shares what he has learned over the course of thirty years about the Sacramento Valley's geography, minerals, flora, and fauna; its relation to fire, agriculture, and water; and its indigenous peoples, farmers, and artists. He shows how the spirit of bioregionalism springs from learning the history of a place, from participating in its local economy, from living in housing designed in the context of the region. He asks: How can we instill a love of place and knowledge of the local into our education system? How can the economy become more responsive to the ecology of region? This valuable book is also a window onto current writing on bioregionalism, introducing the ideas of its most notable proponents in accessible and highly engaging prose. At the same time that it gives an entirely new appreciation of California's Central Valley,LifePlaceshows how we can move toward a new way of being, thinking, and acting in the world that can lead to a sustainable, harmonious, and more satisfying future.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93680-5
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    (pp. 1-10)

    Somewhere in the swirl of life, each of us ponders three essential questions: “Who am I?” “Where am I?” and “What am I supposed to do?” We often consider the first question in isolation, as if it were the true key to our existence—as if the matter of who we are could be resolved independently of the two remaining questions. But all three of these questions must be answered in consort, as together they articulate the totality of the human condition. We do different things with varying degrees of understanding and purpose. We are born, live, feel, think, act,...

    (pp. 11-31)

    It is a clear day in September, and I am sitting by a window in a sparsely filled airliner en route from Portland to Sacramento. Our course takes us southward along the Cascades; peak after volcanic peak pokes up out of expanses of coniferous forest tied together by rivers glinting sunlight and reflecting occasional clouds. As we fly over the Klamath Plateau the land changes: large patches of open grazing land appear, then a broad high-desert announces the arrival on this scenic stage of a major actor: Mount Shasta. An immense cone of forest, cinders, snow, and ice thrusting upward,...

    (pp. 32-51)

    Hyperbole or not, John Muir’s description above has kindled the imagination of valley residents for over a century. Living here, now, we find it hard to imagine duplicating or matching his experience of life in this region. Yet the picture his words paint serves as a measure of biotic potential: given the correct conditions, this land just might reach a similar efflorescence again. Life-places produce specific flora and fauna partly because of their fundamental conditions and partly in response to human disturbances. We are but another species of animal pushing on the equilibrium. Since Muir, we humans have converted a...

    (pp. 52-70)

    The year is 1999. When I arrive slightly tardily to the Regional California Fish and Game Headquarters in Yountville, Napa watershed, the meeting is standing-room only: at least twenty people are in chairs squeezed together arm to arm around the table and an equal number are seated or standing at the perimeter. Incongruously, a stuffed polar bear, moose, and caribou peer upon the assembled crowd from outside the glass-walled entrance of the room, adding irony to this most regional assemblage of voluntary participants—the newly forged Blue Ridge–Berryessa Natural Area Conservation Partnership. Our common bond this Friday, like that...

    (pp. 71-89)

    In a simple and straightforward book,The Dream of Earth, the solitary American monk and essayist Father Thomas Berry suggests a solution to what he considers the primary challenge of humans: to move beyond anthropocentric toward more biocentric norms of progress. One of the first ethicists to recognize and advocate a bioregional approach, Thomas Berry describes a bioregion as a geographical area of interacting life-forms constituting a “self-propagating, self-nourishing, self-educating, self-governing, self-healing, and self-fulfilling community.” According to Berry, “The future of the human lies in acceptance and fulfillment of the human role in all six of these community functions.”Fulfillment,...

    (pp. 90-106)

    Through the car window on the trip south, I gaze at the subdivisions of South Sacramento as they grade into open pasture country punctuated by dairies, each with its characteristic mound of manure. Lacey is driving; we are en route to Stockton. Even though the windows are closed, a faint aroma makes its way into the car interior. It is not really as bad a smell as is commonly reported: I’ve grown accustomed to it, since my own campus is marked at its west entrance by a conspicuous dairy barn, and its odor is the olfactory mascot of the U.C....

    (pp. 107-143)

    It is September, and great plumes of smoke rise from the rice fields of the Butte Sinks, forming mushroom heads as the ascending columns are pushed laterally and broadened by the upper wind currents. In the shadow of Sutter Buttes, my assistant Jake Mann and I are taking photographs of the home bioregion. We have followed one of the smoke columns to its source: the burning stubble of a recently harvested paddy, or “check,” as the growers refer to it. In this instance, the farmer is riding his small ATV, wielding his backfire torch, properly overseeing the controlled burn according...

    (pp. 144-181)

    The truth about life-place (or bioregional ) planning reads like a koan, or Zen riddle:There is no such thing as “bioregional planning,” yet it is happening all the time in every bioregion.To the Zen monk, koans were a source of considerable frustration but ultimate enlightenment. Such is the case with life-place planning. There are, as yet, no professional schools of “bioregional planning.” There is no professional society and no coherent body of theory, few books in print mention the subject, only scattered examples of such planning might be construed as success stories, and few professionals or academics are...

    (pp. 182-230)

    Propped next to my computer is perhaps the most intricate aerial photograph I have ever seen, in color, shot from an altitude of one hundred miles. It is a LANDSAT image of the entire Sacramento Valley bioregion taken in one pass. With eyes deliberately blurred, one could read it abstractly as a frame of dark green (upland mixed forest), with an outer mat of olive (foothill blue oaks) and an inner one of tan (terrace grasslands), containing a crazy quilt of minute rectangles of all possible greens, browns, yellows, and beiges (irrigated farmland), with swatches of gray-green (cities), threads of...

    (pp. 231-255)

    Steve Chainey is lecturing to the class. He has no podium, no slides, no projector or screen, no microphone. Instead, his feet nearly touch the water’s edge, and his arms gesture at the gravel bank and young riparian vegetation behind him. The university students listen attentively, standing beside the lower reach of Cache Creek, which for decades has been mined for the aggregate needed to build the roads, foundations, driveways, sidewalks, and concrete walls of the growing cities of the lower Sacramento Valley. Chainey is a restoration ecologist working for a preeminent local environmental consulting firm. He speaks clearly and...

    (pp. 256-272)

    It is a clear day in March 1996, and I can see the Blue Ridge to the west, the Sierra to the east, and the Sutter Buttes to the north. The rain-soaked farm fields glisten an alternating brown-and-silver corduroy, enframed by mintgreen annual grasses. Escaped almond trees shoot spurts of pink-tinged popcorn flowers skyward from the ditches, and the black walnut buds yearn to burst. Workers are preparing the strawberry beds on the corner northwest of town, burning holes in the plastic mulch to insert the starts, anticipating the onslaught of suburbanites flocking to the small roadside sales shed. At...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 273-282)
  17. General Bibliography
    (pp. 283-294)
  18. Index
    (pp. 295-300)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 301-301)