Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Chuanqi Shen: A Facade

In my mind, conservation always has had a positive connotation. Whenever I hear the word, I get this warm fuzzy feeling, as it seems that something good is being done. However, it turns out that things are not as simple as they appear.

We know the Stanford Dish as a natural preserve. Some of us might have seem cows atop the foothills when we were visiting. I always found the cows intriguing, and I made it a point to spot at least one cow whenever I went on a Dish hike. It never occurred to me until recently that seeing cows grazing on the fields is strange. But if you think about it, why the heck do you allow cows to graze in a place that is protected? Isn't grazing detrimental to the environment? Well, it turns out that the cows consume non-native grass such as hay, and this allows the non-native plants to grow. The Bay Checkerspot butterfly, an endangered species, feeds on these native plants. Therefore, allowing the cows to graze on the fields is actually a way to preserve the Bay Checkerspots. Mindblowing, isn't it?

Of course, one can argue that by doing so, we are destroying the hay, and that brings me to the new perspective I learnt about conservation. Conversation is never about protecting everything. Sometimes, it means destroying some things to retain what you want to protect. In this case, Stanford University wants restore the Stanford Dish foothills to its original form before the Spanish settlers arrived and brought in a lot of invasive, non-native plants.

Meanwhile, at the Hanna House, we learnt about the design principles of Frank Lloyd Wright. One of the most distinctive features of the Hanna House is that it feels very organic and seems to be an seamless part of the environment. It is never clear where the house starts and where the outside world ends. The nearby trees are not jarring bystanders. Instead, they seem to be incorporated into the design of the house. Holes were created into the roofs, and supports were created, to allow the tree to grow and extend its branches gracefully. Looking at the Hanna House, one gets this lovely impression of a man-made home that is peacefully co-existing with the natural world.

Well, except for the fact that the roots of the Cyprus tree are straining to burst through the wooden floors.

Despite the impression we may get, the Hanna House is in fact causing a huge burden on the trees growing around it. The concrete floor plan restrict the amount of space the roots of the trees can extend to, and cement also reduces the porous nature of the soil underneath. The caretakers of the Hanna House took great pains to ensure that the trees are growing healthily, and that the structure of the house is doing fine, but they are not sure how long this can be sustained. In some ways they have in their hands a ticking time bomb.

Now let's move over to Jasper Ridge. Jasper Ridge, especially Searsville Lake, seemed serene and idyllic, and nothing much seemed to be happening. However, this entire scene is in danger of disappearing soon. Searsville Lake is very close to the St Andreas Fault, and over the years the lake is being filled up with the sediments from the fault. 10 years ago, Searsville Lake had a depth of 60 feet. Now, the deepest regions are only about 10 feet. If nothing is being done, Searsville Lake would disappear, an entire ecosystem would be destroyed, and Jasper Ridge would just be another huge overgrowth of trees. Something needs to be done, and that would mean clearing the lake of the excess sediments. Here, we have a unique case where nature is set to destroy a habitat, and we, as humans, want to protect it. It shows that conservation does not necessarily mean keeping a place free from human influence. Sometimes it could mean preventing a place from getting destroyed by natural causes.

In all of the events mentioned above, the first impressions we get are different from (sometimes even totally opposite to) the stories we uncover once we dig further. It's almost as if a facade has been created to deceive us. It's fascinating how different things can be from how they appear. I guess that means that I should stop taking things at face value, and dive deep down to unearth all these amazing stories underneath.  

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