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News: Cactus Ranger Reflections of History and Stewardship, Along the Santa Cruz River

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It’s a new year, and our group is on our first outing of 2022, hiking in the cool winter months which offer us surprisingly pleasant temperatures. Perhaps though, the weather is no surprise at all for this region of the Sonoran Desert which makes it an incredible location to migrate to in the winter months. Migration is the focus of our conversation as we begin our saunter on the Anza trail near the historic site. We find an open area to sit and reflect on this space together. We are a group of nine Cactus Rangers; a group of youth volunteers from Saguaro National Park, seated on the banks of the Santa Cruz with our Anza trail interpreter. We’re sitting in crunchy, crumpled cottonwood leaves, their tall trunks surround us, with barren branches hanging over our circle as we gather. We begin to consider what experiences would have taken place in this landscape throughout history. As we listen to the stories of the last few centuries of this landscape and the people that were shaped and directed by it, we start to feel closer and closer to what they experienced in their lives. The humanness of the tough decisions they made, begin to sound familiar as we empathize with the choices they faced, the loss, the search for a better tomorrow, and a hope on the horizon that can only be sought after with the beginning of a long and unknown journey. We are, in our own ways, all taking on some variation

of that journey that we hear described about the individuals trekking the Anza trail. They pursued a life that had a shimmer of differing possibility, a chance to transplant from the Sonoran Desert to a region far across stretches of land where they might never be heard from again. Not because they wouldn’t survive their travels, no, in fact only one individual died on the trail by chance giving birth. Rather, in these times, with no forwarding address to be reached through, everything had the potential to be left behind and gone for good. Perhaps that was a joyous idea, to leave and to never have attachments of the past follow you. We can only imagine, with our technology, we are followed by a little electronic trail every time something is shared online. Sometimes being anonymous in places can be a liberating feeling, and sometimes it can help us define ourselves and our homes on our own terms. We think of whose homes were being established, whose were being claimed, and what it might be like to find oneself forced from a place of comfort. It’s a theme we can still grasp, and probably always will as humans. Our planet is changing, and looking at the Anza trail, we continue to see change, in fact our next stop is to where the river curves across the trail, under a wooden plank bridge. Here we spend time to collect the litter that changes the ecosystem, dams the water flow, and influences our psychology of how we respect a place. The change we are making today is one of stewardship. To rectify some portion of this landscape by helping it reclaim it’s own past, unencumbered by plastic water bottles, tires, and mud-soaked boots. Our change will be to look at the decisions we make in life, to see whose homes we are impacting, what is happening to the land based on our consumption and practices of disposal, and finally we reflect on our decisions to look at the things, animate and living, that we care about and act as allies and stewards to help aid in their protection.