Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In Denver, and I’m homesick

(I'm confused.  I flew to Vegas, but I might be in Paris.)

For the past week, I have been in Denver, Colorado visiting our sons. Denver is large and growing rapidly, as is the entire Front Range of Colorado from north to south. Driving on the highways is reminiscent of driving in southern California. The area is full of young people who immigrated here from Ohio, Illinois, New York, and other places where life has ceased to be exciting enough. They come here for skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, hiking, and camping in the Rocky Mountains nearby, and when in Denver there is plenty to do. The city boasts professional teams in baseball, basketball, football, and ice hockey, plenty of parks, bike and jogging paths, restaurants and bars of every stripe, interesting museums of art and history, and a good zoo. But I’m bored stiff. What the heck is my problem?

I’m bored because my primary activity in life, aside from blogging and trading stocks, is learning about, and living in, the woodland around my house. In short, I miss my forest in upstate New York and the “backyard ecology” that I practice there. Normally, an ecologist loves to travel to new places, because there are new habitats to explore, new birds to observe, new trees to appreciate. But in the city of Denver, that is not very satisfying. Oh, there are trees everywhere, but almost none of them should be here. Denver was built on the short-grass prairie of central Colorado—the native vegetation was only a few inches tall. Trees would have been limited to the banks of streams and rivers, and they would be cottonwoods and willows. The trees in the city now are mostly native to some other region of the U.S. or to another country: ash, Russian olive, Chinese elm, and Tree of Heaven, that native of China that I absolutely detest outside of its homeland. An irony is that we drove around a neighborhood yesterday with street names like Ash, Birch, and Cherry. Rub it in my face!

My issue here is that there is vegetation everywhere, but it does not constitute a “habitat”. Most homes have attractive green lawns, scattered trees planted in the yard and along the sides of the house, and a variety of flowering plants in gardens. All of this takes nearly daily watering, of course. But that is another complaint I have, for another blog. Nothing I criticize about Denver is any different than what I would say about almost any city in the world. We reconstruct a poor facsimile of the natural world that we took away when we built the city in the first place. For most, this is apparently just fine. In my case, I can’t wait until I go to the airport. But first, I have to spend time in Las Vegas, the Mecca of Facsimiles---Vegas even has the Eiffel Tower, which I always thought was in Paris.


  1. I'll check on your woods for you. Hell, I'll even make sure your scotch didn't go bad.

  2. Do you know the philosopher Baudrillard? He had this theory of simulacrum, basically that we've replaced reality with images, and it progressed in stages. So the first stage is when the image is clearly a false representation of reality. The second stage is when the reality/original and the copies are indestinguishable. The final stage is when the image replaces reality. So the most cited example is Disneyland. Originally, Frontierland or Adventureland were clearly manufactured scenes of the old west or the jungle. But now people go there, and these images have replaced the reality. When people think of the old west the image they come up with is of Frontierland. And yes I am going somewhere with this. This is what I think is going to happen to nature. We're going to manufacture these habitats until they become the reality. And when wee think of Colorado we won't think of short grass prairie, we'll think of all those trees you mentioned. And then people will go to Colorado and see them and their image will just be reaffirmed. And that's my theory.

  3. Thanks Mark. Knew I could count on you. Franny, I did not know about that, but it sounds reasonable. I have always worried that each generation comes to think of a slightly more degraded environment as normal. This is why national parks and wilderness areas are so important, as baseline comparisons. Great comment.