Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Where the streets have no name

Deanne Stillman: Native Intelligence

A pitched battle to prevent the world's largest garbage dump from being built next to Joshua Tree National Park has been won in the Ninth Circuit of Appeals, thanks largely to Donna and Larry Charpied, a pair of jojoba farmers who live in a trailer at the park's edge and filed the first briefs opposing the project almost twenty years ago, after reading how-to legal books and pouring their own money into the lengthy campaign.
In recent years, a coalition consisting of the Desert Protection Society and the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice joined the battle, and Oakland attorney Stephan C. Volker argued the case against the Bureau of Land Management and Kaiser Eagle Mountain, Inc. "The land trade BLM approved here would have literally 'trashed' a spectacular national park whose outstanding natural values have earned it designation as a World Biosphere Reserve," Volker said today. "Shy of Yosemite Valley, I cannot think of a worse place to dump LA's trash for the next century than the fragile desert wilderness adjacent to Joshua Tree National Park."
I concur. In fact, I met the Charpieds some time ago, during my many moons of wandering through Joshua Tree National Park, and through them, I have learned much about a place that has become so crucial to my life, and theirs. Over the years, they have taken me on hikes into remote areas of the park, shown me secret petroglyph sites known to few moderns, walked with me down Pleistocene trails, and spoken quietly of the very jojoba plants - Adam and Eve - that spawned their beautiful, little farm in the Colorado Desert. Like many sacred things, the plants cannot be viewed, but they are somewhere in the environs, living their ancient lives together. From these plants have flowed the most wonderful oil, through their descendants, who pour out the park's wonders into an old still at the Charpieds' farm, then fill a mini-assembly line of pretty bottles that pop up at farmer's markets around southern California or are available for purchase right here.
I've been using the organic oil that Donna and Larry make since I met them, and I consider it a magic elixir from the desert - regenerating for skin and hair, and who knows what else? Like a mad prophet, I've extolled the miracle in various publications, and have also chronicled the Charpieds' battle to save the Promised Land at length - first in the now-defunct Buzz Magazine (where the article was buried because the editor feared the subject of garbage would repel readers), and then more recently in my book Joshua Tree: Desolation Tango, and also for the Mother Nature Network (which picked up a piece I first wrote for Plenty Magazine - another vanished publication).
The case to stop the dump took months to make its way through the Ninth Circuit and we were all beginning to wonder what this meant. At a time when the wilderness is under siege in so many ways, would Joshua Tree National Park be the next on the triage list? For the moment, the answer is a resounding no - the place where the streets have no name will remain so, unsullied by refuse, preserved for next Wednesday, and the Wednesday after that, and we can all say thank you to a pair of jojoba farmers who live in a trailer and make oil from a plant that shares its home with the desert tortoise, the raven, the coyote, the mighty rocks, the carpets of stars, and all the fine things that flourish and endure here - and help us do the same, wherever we are.
November 10, 2009 8:00 PM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

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