By Dandee Pattee
“All migration is a movement from scarcity to plenty.” -Krista Schlyer
On January 24th, an excited, murmuring crowd packed the theater at Joe’s Movement Emporium in Mt Rainier to attend “Beer and the Borderlands”, a slide lecture and book talk by the local writer, Krista Schlyer.
Schlyer sat on stage in a pool of light surrounded by the velvety darkness while images from her recent book, “Continental Divide: Wildlife, People, and the Border Wall” were cast upon the screen beside her. The images featured both the gorgeous and dangerous desert landscape of the borderland that stretches 2000 miles between Mexico and the United States, and the vulnerable wildlife being impacted by fence separating the two countries. Many of the images were dramatic depth-of-field photography of wildlife ranging from a desert tortoise of the Sonoran Desert in Southern Arizona, and burrowing owls in the Colorado River valley to the vast stretches of rippled earth of the desert landscape. The poetic delivery of Schlyer’s talk increased the impact of the compositionally stunning images projected in the darkened theatre.
For the most part, Schlyer elegantly skirted the usual argument surrounding issues of immigration. She spoke about the history of the North American Free Trade Agreement, giving a synopsis of the destabilization of the Mexican economy brought on by NAFTA which in turn spurred the mass migration of Mexicans to the United States. Among all of the valid concerns the issues of immigration brings up, Schlyer’s documentation has led her to ask an obvious and simple question- what is the ecological impact of the construction of a 2000 mile long fence along the US and Mexico border? This question has been buried in the angry and confusing discourse of immigration policy in the US.
As Schlyer’s lecture continued the ecological impact of the fence became urgently clear. Schlyer’s research revealed that Sonoran Pronghorn Antelope, and big cats like the Ocelot and Jaguar share migration areas that are being cut in half, severing these species from watering holes and breeding grounds that are instinctually ingrained in their survival patterns. It is likely that Schlyer tailored this lecture for a general audience, but disappointingly Schlyer’s lecture did not include factual evidence or statistics supporting the claim of destruction upon animal populations. Likely these studies are being conducted and will take years to culminate into hard numbers. The importance of the book however is inarguable, and it has received many awards from reputable organizations such as the 2013 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, the 2013 National Outdoor Book Award, and the 2013 American Library Association Annual Conference selection, “Best of the Best from the University Presses”, among many others.
Schlyer delivered her presentation with clarity and disarming authenticity. Toward the end of the lecture she expressed her hope. She pointed out that much of the border does not have walls, and there is potential for the walls to come down. Schlyer says she believes that hope lies in a change of perspective, but then frustratingly leaves the audience hanging. What perspective exactly? Whose perspectives? How do audience members help move toward that change? The answers to this frustration came surprisingly from an unintentional collaboration between Schlyer and an audience member. Prior to the lecture Schlyer had placed postcards on the chairs, she also included the names and addresses of congress members, ready recipients for the postcards. She reminded the audience that the house will soon be considering immigration reform and sending postcards and making phone calls to congress members can help. The collaboration came from an audience member who had a special insight into the interworking of our government because she works for congress. Although she did not mention where she works, she reassured the audience that yes, congress does listen to our concerns especially when comments are coming in large numbers to move issues along. One other way a concerned citizen might make a difference is by inviting Schlyer to deliver her lecture to other community or University groups. The more people that are moved by Schlyer’s cause, the closer we can come to a solution.
“Beer and the Borderlands” was a clever combination of a relaxed social environment perfect for a civil discourse on environmental issues, it was exactly the kind of event that one would expect to find in the small community of Mt Rainier. Krista Schlyer’s message was beautifully delivered to a rapt and respectful audience; if you have an opportunity to see Schlyer’s lecture it is not to be missed.
Dandee Pattee is a resident artist at Red Dirt Studios in Mount Rainier. She just completed a Master’s in Critical Studies at MICA. For more information about Dandee Pattee and her work visit her site at www.dandeepattee.com