One of the things I used to enjoy most about meeting a potential client on their chosen piece of ground for the first time was sharing the suggestion that “Nobody does better work than the Big Man,” which was, of course, my way of acknowledging the undeniable beauty of the natural world, and the endless alchemy performed by Mother Nature. It was my way of saying that we needed to show restraint, humility and concern for the particular part of the Earth we were about to alter forever—in essence, to be patient and respectful.
Now, by my own making, I am on the other side of that exchange. I have to confess that the reality of that concept comes with a great deal of added weight, as we consider all the change we are about to initiate. We only get one chance to do it right; we simply won’t live long enough to see the recovery if we do careless damage to the landform and other natural features of this amazing place.
To start with, there is the stream crossing that must be conceived, designed, engineered, permitted and executed. The streambed, the riparian zone, the beaver dams and the ponds they create cannot resist the “mechanized hand of man,” not to mention all the life forms that inhabit that part of the ecosystem alone: the trout, the aquatic insects, the various bird species, the amazing high altitude amphibian-in-residence known as the boreal toad, and of course the heavy-antlered head of the architectural review committee, whom I respectfully refer to as Mr. Moose-stafa. They are all counting on us to take our time, to be extra careful with this irreplaceable jewel they call home.
Once the crossing comes to fruition, there is a complex infrastructure that follows: access roads, corrals, building sites, parking areas, water wells and bores for earth-sourced energy to power selected systems, a solar array, wind turbine, basic waste treatment provisions and drainage components. It’s a big list. And that’s before we even think about raising a wall on a single enclosure.
What will be our ultimate effect on the neighborhood? Will the mountain bluebirds, so beautiful they almost hurt the eyes, still pause to consider us from the old fence posts? Can we preserve enough of the sweet grassy meadows to remain irresistible to the mule deer and the elk? Will the black bear sow who frequents the aspen groves and spruce find us acceptable company for her spring cubs? Will the furtive cougar still leave overnight tracks in the dusty road as it trails the band of bighorns who roam between the rock bluffs?
If we desire to be a permanent part of this landscape, what then is required of us? Have we honestly earned the right to impose our will here, however measured? This place is already perfect. We cannot improve it. All we can do is study the golden light, listen to the songs in the stream, the grasses and the trees, promise to do everything possible to protect it and hope that we can become part of the magic.
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