Some environmental geographers argue that the land of our nation should not have been divided up by the arbitrary political lines of the Jeffersonian grid—but rather, that territory should have been more sensibly, and in a more ecologically sound way, defined by watersheds.
Over the past few decades, the movement of bioregionalism has sought to reclaim our political and cultural identities based on the environmental place in which we live, emphasizing the importance of local people, local knowledge, and subsidiarity. In and around the area of Madison, New Jersey, our watershed region is the Passaic River Basin, inclusive of the Upper Passaic, Whippany, and Rockaway rivers. We are in the geographic province of the Piedmont, the flat fertile region at the foot of the rolling Highlands up north.
This photographic essay depicts my time as a volunteer for the Great Swamp Watershed Association, a local non-profit environmental organization which serves to monitor and protect water quality, investigate land use issues within our watershed, and act in the political arena to strengthen environmental regulations. Further, this essay explores the often dilemmatic ways in which humans act on behalf of the environment. We are entangled in a deeply interconnected and interdependent natural world. A tree can live when it is not strangled by “invasive” species—species which, usually facilitated by human activity, have overrun and crowded out all biodiversity in an area. Those trees serve to stabilize the soil of the banks of the river, which in turn reduce erosion and keep the river flowing. And yet, are we truly restoring the so-called balance of nature by eradicating a place of a species we see to be “invasive?” How has human intervention helped or harm these complicated ecological relationships? What is our place? Why do we choose to act as stewards of the land?