Jackie MM Gonzales

Jackie MM Gonzales, environmental historian

Jackie has a PhD in Environmental History from the University at Albany, SUNY. Her dissertation analyzed a federal coastal conservation in the twentieth century United States. She has worked with the National Park Service in Georgia, Indiana, on Cape Cod, and at Manzanar National Historic Site in Independence, California. Jackie has worked in the policy arena at Parks & Trails New York (PTNY), New York's leading voice for parks and trails, and the Environmental Advocates of New York.

Thinking Like a Watershed

Trevien Stanger , a writer out of Vermont, published a poetic piece in yesterday's Burlington Free Press on the importance of understanding watersheds as a crucial part of your local identity. We identify by region, city, state, nation, but if we could better identify with our watersheds, we might take ownership over their cleanliness and functionality. 

The piece is heavy on literature and somewhat light on content, but it makes a beautiful case for understanding and accepting accountability for the watershed in which you live. 

A map of the Hudson River watershed (NYS Department of Environmental Conservation)

Thanks to G. Francese for sending this my way! 

Jokes for JFK

 Politicians: leaving their jokes to the pros. Or something like that. 

Politicians: leaving their jokes to the pros. Or something like that. 

Even the least politically savvy among us can probably guess that politicians do not write their own jokes. Amazing, when you think about it, since the quality of these riffs remains pretty low. Because political humor can come out stilted and awkward even in real time, looking at historical jokes -- ones the didn't even make the cut, possibly -- is a gold mine of uncomfortable humor.

I came across these 50 year-old prepared jokes in a stack of dusty papers at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. I can picture Kennedy sitting back and thinking through which ones to share, which ones didn't meet the cut.

None of the jokes are that good. Take this one: "It's obvious this is a non-partisan trip -- I'm not going to a single state I carried." Good attempt, but it looks like the result of a political staffer spending too much time in campaign mode.

My favorites are the ones that are cynical about Congress. We always want to say that we're at the worst point in history, that Congress is the most dysfunctional, that our elected officials are as bad as it gets, but, let's face it, things are always pretty grim in politics. Here are a few possibilities for congressional digs that Kennedy's staff included:

  • "This is supposed to be the largest roll-earth dam in the world -- but it's nothing compared to some of the obstacles I've encountered in Washington."
  • "Damming this river is quite an undertaking -- although the Senate did pretty well in stopping the flow of words the other day."

There are even some California-specific jokes at the end: "Pat Brown and I are about to set off an explosion. It won't be the last one he sets off this year . . . to prove to the press (or the GOP) how friendly I am, I'm letting them stand as close to the site of the explosive as they want to."

Perhaps most revealing as to the fine lines and low standards of political humor is the fact that it's unclear whether the first line is a joke or an introduction. It reads simply, "Mr. Chairman, my fellow non-partisans."

I'm guessing it's a joke. And if it is, I want that job. 

Memo, “Possible Humor for Western Trip,” “Interior, JFK Western Trip, Fall 1963” Folder, Box 80, Papers of President Kennedy. President’s Office Files. Departments and Agencies, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. 

Oysters, farming, and parks: West vs. East?

Drakes Estero in Point Reyes National Seashore. Photo from the the Marin Conservation League

A Marin Country (California) columnist committed to words yesterday what a lot of dairy farmers on Point Reyes must be thinking: What does the defeat of the Drakes Bay Oyster Company mean for them?

While most of Point Reyes National Seashore is not Congressionally designated as a wilderness area, there certainly are still some activists and those of a certain mind within the National Park Service who fundamentally oppose agriculture and parkland coexisting. 

However, there are others -- plenty, I would even say -- who do not want to divorce all agriculture from parkland, and many more parks whose on-the-ground practices show a longstanding cooperation with and implicit approval of agricultural aims. 

At Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, farmers have been allowed to harvest hay from the battlefield for the past century. It saves the NPS money on lawn mowing and helps to keep fields in their battlefield-era state. At Cape Cod National Seashore, towns and individuals aggressively practice aquaculture in marshes and harbors, growing clams, oysters, and catching lobster. At the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site in Kinderhook, New York, a working farm has actually partnered with the historic house to provide educational opportunities (and delicious produce) reminiscent of Van Buren's era. 

Clamming on Cape Cod is often an integral part of the bucolic landscape that visitors come to see. 

These are but a few quick examples of the many cases of agriculture coexisting in U.S. National Parks with essentially zero controversy. None of these practices make the news as contested; if anything, they show up in headlines as ideal partnerships, community relationships to be emulated that reach across public/private lines, from state to local to national governments. 

I do not mean to imply that the controversy at Point Reyes is any less real or that the farmers have no legitimate worry that the National Park Service (NPS) has a wandering eye that would prefer a landscape sans ranching. Rather, I hope to add a voice to this debate that has been missing. In the National Park Service, especially when it comes to eastern parks, the agency is more than willing to cooperate with farmers and actively promotes new agricultural partnerships, as is the case with Van Buren's home.

This attitude carries over to the West in some places, but the Park Service as a federal agency is so segmented and regionalized that the Western hand does not always know what the Eastern is doing. Studies that decry tenuous relationships between the NPS and agricultural groups often come out of western regions, such as this 2011 report from the Pacific West Region. Moreover, many of us as American citizens still like to think of the West as "wild" in more ways than one, and deep down see conflict in non-park uses in western parks where we might turn a blind eye their eastern brethren. 

If we really want stable relations between the NPS and ranchers on Point Reyes, perhaps the Park Service should look within itself -- albeit across a continent -- for the answer. 

Notes from the field . . .

While working on Cape Cod this summer, I figured I'd share a few notes from the field -- ecological, historical, observations on people, etc. 

One of my favorite plants to see in the National Seashore is not fresh- or saltwater-dwelling. Rather, it grows in the woods. "Indian pipe" is a saprophytic plant found in much of the U.S. and parts of Asia, though not in huge numbers.

Indian Pipe (Monotropa Uniflora)

Saprophytic plants don't use chlorophyll to make energy, which makes them look more like a fungus than a plant. Indian pipes are actually heterotrophic (they do not produce their own food) and live as parasites off of mycorrhizal fungi, the webs of fungi helping out the roots of trees while assuring soil health. 

Anyways, indian pipe are awesome and a bit eerie all at the same time. I've always loved finding them under leaves in the forest and, whaddaya know, so do famous poets. The New Yorker included a previously unpublished Robert Hayden poem in a recent issue. The poem's subject? Indian pipe. And death.


Indian Pipes

Look, I said, Indian pipes, 

   flowers for ghosts. 

You stopped to gather a few

   of the livid blooms, then we

went on through deepening woods.

   You walk there still-- 

ghost flower withering

   in your hands, long since a ghost. 

       - Robert Hayden (1913-1980)

(Check out the poem on The New Yorker's site here)

I love the poem, but I don't agree that the strangely translucent flowers conjure images of death. To me, indian pipe has always seemed to celebrate a sort of uniqueness -- as in, "we don't need sunshine! We're beyond that unfettered addiction of the chlorophyll-dependent autrophic world." 

Indian pipe has it figured out. For that, they've earned my respect, with no hint of ghostly apparitions. But as for poetry on the tiny pale plants, I'll take what I can get. 

As Point Reyes/Drakes Estero saga heats up, gets picked up

As the legal challenges to the Drakes Bay Oyster Company's continued operation in Drakes Estero continue, new venues are picking up the story. The latest I've seen is in a cattle network's website.

This is historically interesting, and points to some of common inconsistencies of the National Park Service, since the cattle ranchers who sold their lands to the feds and now lease it back are not in danger of having their operations stopped by the government (Drakes Estero was designated a potential marine wilderness area in 1976, but while the estuary is still used for commercial purposes, the wilderness status cannot go into effect).

The uplands around Drakes Estero are not be affected by the 1976 wilderness legislation and can continue operations regardless of any pending court decisions. Yet, the fact that a cattle network has its eye on this debate points to the larger repercussions of the back-and-forth. Agricultural interests that work closely with the National Park Service, and even often depend on them thanks to legislation that set up those dependent relationships 50 years ago, realize that the Park Service not playing nice with some neighbors can set precedents.

When Congressional legislation to establish Point Reyes National Seashore went through in 1962, cattle ranchers were skeptical that the Park Service would be able to play nice and hesitated to give any control over their family ranching lands. Several ranchers at that time formed a "West Marin Property Owners Association" that spoke out with the interests of dairy ranchers in mind, usually against a National Seashore completely. 

Ranchers have not forgotten the Point Reyes conflict or the many, many other land use disputes in Western states regarding public lands and ranching. The Park Service's very public non-renewal of Drakes Bay Oyster Company's lease has ranchers reflecting on the many times they've been mistreated by the feds, and now they're wondering what might be next for them. Who wouldn't in their boots? 

"Lore" at the JFK Library

 It's John F. Kennedy, in case you live under a rock or don't know the face of our first photogenic President (Franklin Pierce excepted, of course). Public Domain. 1961.

It's John F. Kennedy, in case you live under a rock or don't know the face of our first photogenic President (Franklin Pierce excepted, of course). Public Domain. 1961.

I'm sorting through the photos I took at the JFK Library in Boston last week and I came up with a juicy nugget, a snide side comment, a linguistic lesson, that I probably won't ever have an excuse to include in the dissertation. It's only life will be as this afternoon blog treat!

The self-proclaimed Harvard man writing this letter (who was some years Kennedy's senior) is writing to Kennedy to protest (with lots of underlined text) the creation of a National Seashore on Oregon's coasts. He starts as any wealthy, disgruntled landowner would, complaining of federal overreach and "loss of investments."

He takes a snooty turn in the last paragraph to chide Kennedy's Boston accent. I think the funniest thing about it is that the response from Kennedy's staff to Professor Wright, the author of the letter, is a total form response with no mention of the last insulting paragraph. 

This letter was written in June 1960. Kennedy obviously never lost the regional accent. It seemed to work fine for him, and I guess those 99% found some way to understand. On the quick note of relating-to-my-research, I find it telling that the people living in these coastal areas were of the sort who felt empowered enough to give the Presidential candidate speech lessons, and even be confident enough that this busy campaigner would actually read through the letter personally, and on top of that, carefully enough to be offended. That sense of entitlement and power gives some clue as to why Oregon Dunes never became a National Seashore . . .   


 Professor Leavitt O. Wright to John F. Kennedy, June 29, 1960. Folder 3, “Cape Cod, 7/60,” Senate Files, Legislation, Legislation Files 1953-1960, 1960, Cape Cod – Cawley, Richard S. Box No. 731.