Friday, November 15, 2013

Finding Water

There are a number of ways of finding water. Some walk over the land with a forked willow limb in a practice called ‘dowsing’. Others, perhaps more scientifically, study the geology carefully…still others look at the vegetation. Some, like Craig Childs (The Secret Knowledge of Water) spend days, even months, in the field under very dangerous conditions, in order to find water. My son Kevin and I recently used history and a little of the above (but not dowsing or danger) to find water.

We were talking one day when he mentioned having read somewhere of the building of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad (1865-1959) in the northwestern part of the colorful US State of Nevada. The book or books indicated that upon reaching a certain mileage, those building the railroad bed had encountered water.  Kevin located the possible location and passed the information on to me.  I used Google Earth to follow the still existing railroad bed, sans tracks and ties, and right where it should be was a stand of green vegetation. 

In late October of 2013, along with the Nevada gathering of our family, we walked about three kilometers along the old roadbed until we came to the stand of willow I had seen on the Google Map.  At first it was difficult to tell, but after looking more carefully we saw the water!  There, at the base of what is called a ‘cut’ in the slope of the hillside, we found a shallow pool, 3-4 meters long, of very clear water.  The soil around the pool was hard-packed sand and gravel and did not take the impression of animal tracks very well. We could not tell what animals visited the site but in these very arid lands, this water is valuable to many species.  Our visit took place on the driest day of the year and yet there was water in this shallow basin. It snowed in northwestern Nevada the day after our visit to the seep.

The old railroad way is well known and is used by hikers, runners, and a number of other visitors.  I’m sure there are many who know of this permanent seep, certainly hundreds of recreationists pass it each week. Regardless, it is always exciting to ‘find’ water. I’m sure we’ll return some day.     

Friday, November 1, 2013

When the Wells Run Dry


I facilitate a small group of wetland professionals called the Groundwater Wetlands Study Group.  The other day we got an email from a conservation professional who was affiliated with a project in Mongolia. He reported that some of the springs on the nature reserve he oversees had gone dry. It is not a new thing to hear about a well going dry or even springs going dry. Being raised in the desert country of the Western United States I’ve heard a number of stories about people having to dig new wells or drive their existing well deeper into Earth. It does appear, however, as if these reports are becoming more and more frequent. 

At the same time, in some places, new aquifers are being discovered. Such a new discovery recently happened in the nation of Kenya.  Invariably, a new discovery is rapidly accompanied by plans to exploit the water.  Rarely do these plans include sustainable use that incorporates natural recharge of the aquifer.  We continue to produce more and more of us. We continue to invent more and more ways to use resources, including water. And we consistently fail to and anticipate the results of our being and our actions.

In many locations the need for water is so desperate that little thought is given to what will happen when the wells run dry and, unless the use incorporates recharge, they will run dry…all of them, eventually.

 (Thanks to Google for the use of the well images)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Water In Home Places



We are very fortunate at Hidden Springs where our home is perched over a number of springs that fill a pool that may hold as much as 5,000 gallons.  Those springs and pool are at the lower end of the land we steward.  Even with natural springs we have brought water into closer proximity to our home.  Visitors to our front door are greeted with a small pool fed by a trickle of recirculated water that sounds like the tinkling of tiny crystal bells. The window in the studio of my artist wife Penny ( looks out over what we call the Studio Gardens complete with an ornamental pond, water lilies and other plants, frogs, and the frequent raccoon or two. One additional ‘water feature’ is located on the slope below the window in my study.  I can’t see it but I often see the other residents of Hidden Springs who come to water there.  During the late summer of 2013 an Eastern Whitetail doe had her fawn in the rhododendrons within a few feet of the house.  For the first few days, while her fawn was growing steady legs she took water from the small pool below the Study window.  It may be that the oldest recorded water gardens, or perhaps water features, were in what is called the Cradle of Civilization in Mesopotamia thousands of years ago. But the idea either spread rapidly or occurred almost simultaneously involving Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, China, India, Japan, Rome, Persia and a number of other places among the evolving peoples of Earth.  What is it that we look for in these often quiet places and still waters?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Water in Wet Places

Living in the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains, one can become jaded about water. There is a lot of it here.  Often the streams and ditches run full.  Almost every low place is a puddle complete with frogs and dragonflies.  Only a few minutes from our home at Hidden Springs is an area that boasts literally hundreds of waterfalls.  And, according to climate change models, it is supposed to get wetter here in these mountains. 

It is easy to take all of that water for granted unless, like me, you were raised in a very dry place where you don’t take water for granted…not even a tiny trickle or a stagnant pool.  Even in a place literally overflowing with water some places are special.  For example, there is a small stream only a few miles from our home.  Not much more than a trickle, this stream wanders down a canyon beside a trail.  There is one place along the trial where I always stop to take a closer look at the stream.  At this spot the stream flows into a quiet, shallow pool. The pool is surrounded by lush grass and framed by a fallen long. I’m not sure what it is about this spot that grabs my attention.  I suspect it might be something about the peace that I feel here and, possibly, the harmony with which Nature has arranged the elements of the place.  I think most of us seek these special places in our lives, at least those of us who have some sense of the wild and the beauty in Nature.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Water in Dry Places

Decades ago, along with a friend and colleague, I drove across the high desert of northeastern Nevada to collect a small fish found in only one stream. After miles and miles of sagebrush desert, dry washes, and arid mountains, we overshot our target. We didn’t miss it we were just traveling too fast through that great lonely land to know when we’d arrived.  Stopping and turning around we parked on the sandy berm almost on top of where the stream flowed through a culvert under the road. There is something almost startling about water, of any sort, in such an arid place. In the years that followed, I encountered water in similar places from the springs that fed into the Salton Sea to the springs of Ash Meadows in the Death Valley Region of Nevada/California to floor of Death Valley itself.
There is something almost taunting about water in these environments. There is so little of it amid so much aridity.  In its aloneness, it is startling and often beautiful.  The waters of some of these springs appear to be turquoise while others are more clear than the finest crystal.  I will never forget being deeply submerged in the waters of Devils Hole and watching the bubbles on my SCUBA gear rise toward the distant surface, a small rectangle of turquoise far above me. Water in dry places, in desert lands also has a unique spiritual quality reflecting the both life’s tenacity and its impermanence.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Sacred Substance

If there is a sacred substance on this planet, one that is holy beyond all else, it is not a wafer of pressed bread or a cup of wine, it is water. For, without water, life on Earth (or anywhere else that we know of) is impossible.  Without water life would not have become. Without water life would not have evolved. And, without water life would not be. And yet, like many of our gods we have also consistently abused and crucified this sacred substance.  We have poured our bodily wastes into water since the beginning of collective life in towns and cities. In the name of that very suspect ’progress,’  we have emptied our industrial waste into the rivers and streams, and the arteries of polluted water have burst into flame.

 In Asia the extraction of groundwater for fish culture is causing subsidence of the land.  In the Middle East water wars brew among the increasingly arid sands. In Japan radioactive poisons flow into the waters of the Pacific Ocean. In southern Nevada, the progeny of organized crime have acquired the rights to every drop of water from springs and streams to feed the thirst of Las Vegas.  Even when all the springs are sucked dry, there still won’t be enough water and the tourists will have to learn to drink their own recycled piss. Our theologies teach us that it’s not a good idea to offend our gods and it surely is not a good idea to continue to offend water.  Water may not be the kind of god our many theologies have led us to expect but its continued abuse will inevitably lead to the kind of punishment  we are told our oddly antagonistic gods often impose.

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Deep Place in the Earth III

Continued from the preceding post.

Looking down at the Rio Grande from the rim rock. (Photo by Tom Baugh)
As I have said several times before in this blog, I’m attracted to the study of water…I like to play in the mud.  In early May 2013 this attraction led me, along with my artist wife Penny Baugh ( to the edge of the Rio Grande Gorge in an area referred to by the USDI Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as the Wild Rivers Recreation Area.  The Rio Grande and the Red River flow through this region of sagebrush, pinyon pine and juniper.  But it was the Rio Grande that called to us this day.  We had decided to walk down into the canyon 800 feet below to visit Big Arsenic Springs. 
Big Arsenic Springs on the Rio Grande. (Photo by tom Baugh)
The trail dropped away steeply below our perch down through layers and layers of ancient lava flows until rock flowed into water.  From high above, the river looked peaceful along some stretches and turbulent with white water along others.  In driving along the miles of roads and through the thousands of acres leading into the site we had not seen another human since the community of Cerro some miles back.  The BLM visitor center was closed. And there were no other cars on the roads or parked at the campsites. To the best of our knowledge, we were alone in the immensity.  It was a very liberating, and I suspect these days a very rare, experience.  

Our descent along the crumbly surface of the trail took longer than any other mile-long stretch we have ever walked.  But eventually we reached Big Arsenic Spring at the river’s edge.  According to the story, possibly a myth, the spring was named by a hermit who wanted to keep the water all to himself.  Perhaps somebody finally did the science, found out that this was not an arsenic spring, and the hermit lost his exclusivity.  A flow of 5000 gallons per minute makes Big Arsenic Springs a rarity in this parched region of the earth.  This artesian, subaqueous spring rushes from the base of a great tumble of lava rock and bursts out into the river in a white plume.   We had the spring all to ourselves that morning and it was not until our journey back up the trail, when we had almost reached the rimrock, that we encountered a party of four, the first humans we had seen that day.

The canyon rim above the Rio Grande. (Photo by Tom Baugh)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Deep Place in the Earth II

Continued from the preceding post.

The lower end of the Rio Grande Gorge near Pilar, NM. (Photo by Tom Baugh
We also had the opportunity to visit the river at the lower end of the Gorge, near the community of Pilar, New Mexico.  This is a different river, more gentle and much less dramatic.  A road winds along the east bank of the river through the small community of Pilar and up river past Bureau of Land Management campsites until it ends at the confluence of the Rio Grande with the Rio Pueblo de Taos.
The Rio Pueblo de Taos is the same stream that passes through the Pueblo community of Taos on the north side of the present day tourist community of Taos. From Pilar the river flows south through increasingly open and arid land, exits New Mexico, enters the US state of Texas, and eventually joins with the Gulf of Mexico.  Although this lower end of the Gorge is beautiful, it is for some reason here that one becomes increasingly aware of the aridity of this region of North America. During the days that we spent in the Taos area we never purchased a local or regional newspaper that failed to mention the declining water resources of the region.  It is difficult to conceive of anything that will, over the long run, increase the amount of water available to New Mexico.  And yet growth continues to outstrip the sparse water resources.  The situation here is no different than that facing many other parts of the world.  Our populations continue to grow, our needs for natural and processed resources continue to expand but water, the most essential resource of all and the most limiting next to air, continues to decline.
A very small seep from a volcanic hillside above the Rio Grande (Photo by  Tom Baugh)

Continued in the next post.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Deep Place in the Earth I

Rio Grande River hundreds of feet below the bridge. (Photo by Tom Baugh)
My wife Penny ( and I recently had the opportunity to visit the Rio Grande Gorge in the northwestern part of the US state of New Mexico.  Although not as deep and nowhere near as wide as the Grand Canyon, the Rio Grande Gorge is a very impressive rift, a very deep place in the Earth.  The Taos Mesa is an immense extent of sagebrush covered land, dotted here and there with the signs of humanity,  that stretches for miles. Even on a sunny day there is a brooding aspect to this place.  The frequent patchy clouds sail across the sky, pushed by the ever present winds, and darken the earth below in great shifting patches of a natural melancholy.

Dwarf yucca among the lava boulders. (Photo by Tom Baugh)
You can visit the Gorge in several different ways.  For example, you can drive across the Gorge on a bridge located a little north and west of the community of Taos.  The Gorge isn’t obvious until you are right upon it.  One moment you are driving on a hard asphalt surface with high desert seemingly on all sides and in the next moment you are suspended in space on a thin ribbon of concrete and steel with the Rio Grande winding far below and nothing but very empty space under you. It can be a breath-taking experience to come upon  the Gorge and its namesake river in this way.  This is an incredibly fractured lava land with great chucks of black rock descending from the rims of the Gorge deep into the river itself.  

Continued in the next post.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Green Aesthetics II

Continued from the previous post.

Along with our human neighbors, on this often wind-swept ridge, we are frequently visited by deer, turkey, opossum and pesky raccoon (or two).  Bobcat, foxes, and coyote wander the streets and the bird population is colorful and varied.  The black bear moms bring their cubs to the spring-pool below the house and Bill, the six and half foot long black snake patrols the landscape and the hardscape for the frequent deer mice and the occasional copperhead. Red, a wood pecker, never fails to visit and greet me with a small screech when I sit in the alcove on the south-facing front of the house to read and soak in the sun.

I hope that my work over the past five decades of my 70 plus years, much of it mentioned in this blog, has contributed in some small way to help maintain the beauty of life on Earth and will continue to do so over whatever time I have left.  

Let me conclude these posts with the closing lines from the Navajo Night chant sometimes called House Made of Dawn.

In beauty it is finished
In beauty it is finished

Although I will post occasionally to this blog, this is the last of my regularly scheduled bimonthly posts.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Green Aesthetics I

In my posts of August 8 and 15 (Color it Green I & II) I mentioned green aesthetics and suggested that the term might describe not only architectural design but also life styles.  Beauty is the heart of aesthetics and living in beauty is at the heart of a green aesthetic.

In my posts Life on the Wild Edge I & II (January 1 and 15, 2012) I discussed what, for us at Hidden Springs (our home), were some of our attempts to live aesthetically green lives.  I’d like to use this posting and to touch on these efforts again. When I say ‘our’ I’m referring to me and my artist wife Penny (

There is a spiritual beauty in living intentionally as lightly on Earth as one can and a special sense of peace in creating a habitat that has a light, even minimal impact on the environment.

Although I never thought I’d find much nice to say about energy providers I have to admit that routinely getting a comparative report of our electrical consumption from our power company telling us that were among the least consumptive of those on its roles with a home of our modest size here in the mountains of western North Carolina, made us feel good…peaceful, somehow.  Over the years, we had put some effort into creating a healthy energy-efficient, safe environment.   Special tubes carefully pierce the roof and bring sunlight into places that previously required energy to light. We have replaced a large number of exotic plants with native plants.  Hundreds of gallons of rainwater are captured each year and used during drier times. Water not captured is directed to places around our small patch most in need of irrigation. The bricks of the house are cleaned with biodegradable cleaner, much of the lawn has been removed and replanted with native shrubs and perennials and mulched leaves are a crop used as ground cover.

Continued in the next post.

Friday, March 15, 2013

What Mercy ? (II)

Continued from the previous posting.

Africa is no stranger to the sounds of automatic weapons fire and it is also no stranger to poaching.   Elephants are high on the list of those species slaughtered for profit and this continual massacre is prompted by the desire of some religious adherents to possess religious icons carved from elephant ivory.  

In 2012, the Religion and Conservation Research Collaborative of the Society for Conservation Biology turned its attention to this issue following an article in National Geographic by Bryan Christy titled Blood Ivory.  Christy places the responsibility for the slaughter at the door of Catholicism and Buddhism, in some parts of the world. It is the hope of the Advisory Committee of the Collaborative and others that some influence can be brought to bear on religion at the institutional stage to speak out to their co-religionists to help stop the use of ivory for religious icons and thus reduce the number of elephant who fall victim to the poacher AK-47.

Thinking of the gunshot, deflated, desiccating carcasses of these magnificent and highly intelligent creatures while religious adherents  moan and chant over their extracted molars makes for dark meditation and yet another sobering  indictment of religion.

For additional information on the use of poached ivory as religious icons and the subsequent impacts on elephants go to

(Unless otherwise noted images courtesy of Google Images)

Friday, March 1, 2013

What Mercy ? (I)

In July of 2007 I was given permission by the Board of Governors of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) to form an exploratory committee to look into the relationships between conservation and religion.  A handful of society members rapidly grew to several hundred and we were granted Working Group status by the SCB ( Over the years the Working Group has involved itself in a number of tasks. Most recently those tasks have focused on a religious practice called mercy release and on the use of elephant ivory for religious objects.  I have served on the Advisory Committee for both efforts.

Fang sheng is a practice by Buddhists and Daoists for releasing captive wildlife as an act of compassion. According to SCB’s Religion and conservation Research collaborative, this type of animal release causes “…adverse effects on biodiversity including the spread of invasive species, genetic swamping, extreme animal suffering, competition, vulnerability to predation, disease, and human health concerns.”  The problem isn’t even very complex.  Animals are trapped with the usual high mortality, they are kept captive with the usual high mortality, they are inappropriately released (with the usual high mortality) with expectable impacts on existing wild populations.  All of this takes place in the name of mercy and some form of spiritual redemption.   Again, it doesn’t take great intellect to figure out that there is nothing good going on here…and not much mercy.  As usual, the animal traffickers involved in Fang shen are the only ones making  good on the deal.

For additional information on Fang sheng and SCB efforts to reduce the practice see

(Image courtesy of Buddhist Channel through Google Images.)

Continued in the next posting.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Playing In The Mud II

 Continued from the previous post

Although it can be fun playing in the mud by yourself, it is often as enjoyable to have friends and colleagues with you.  It was for this reason that in fall of 2012 I posted a message on a couple of scientific lists that I was looking for someone(s) to play in the mud with.  The response was quick and gratifying and within a short time I had gathered dozens and dozens of scientists and practitioners.  We call ourselves the Groundwater Wetland Study Group and I’m in very good company! The focus of the Study Group is on seeps, springs, bogs, fens, and other groundwater-dependent wetland systems.                                Our members are working on projects from thermal wetlands in the American deserts to perched lakes in Tasmania to projects in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. The Study Group is an  international organization with members in Nigeria, Romania, Brazil, Vietnam, and The United Kingdom, among a number of other places. Our members represent government on several levels, business, environmentalists, independents, and the academic world.  The Study Group currently hosts a Yahoo Group, and is guided by a Leadership Cadre. 

For additional information on the Groundwater Wetland Study Group contact Tom Baugh at

Friday, February 1, 2013

Playing In The Mud I

Ever since I was a child I have enjoyed playing in the mud. I have played in the mud for six decades ranging from wetlands of various sorts on the West coast of the US to springs in the deserts of Nevada and California to the US Gulf Coast out into the Caribbean and to the mountains of the southern Appalachians. As my wife of 51 years can tell you, I still enjoy playing in the mud.  Now that I am no longer indentured to a 9-5 yoke, I can play in the mud whenever I want. I use the term ‘mud’ loosely. Perhaps playing in the water would better describe my professional interests.  Although there has been a lot of mud in the places I have worked, there have also been some pristine waters…crystal seeps and springs and streams still clear enough to look drinkable (not a good idea these days).

Several posts back I spoke of Bat Fork Bog Plant Conservation Preserve near my home in the Southern Appalachian Mountains of Western North Carolina. No crystal seeps or springs there…just mud and a little water and an endangered plant species. My current work has me at the toe of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in Northwestern Nevada several times each year where thermal springs bubble up from the Genoa Fault filling the air with the smell of sulfur before flowing down slope to help form a backwater wetland to the Carson River.  Water, mud, odors…ah, the stuff of life!

See the next post for information on the Groundwater Wetlands Study Group (

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Coyote Stories II

(Continued from preceding post)

Like many mammals, coyotes like to play with things. The coyotes at the preserve not only liked to play with things but they had a playground in the field right in front of where their tunnel  through the brush opened onto the meadow.  And their playground was strewn with toys.  From somewhere they had, collected a very old plastic container that once held bar and chain oil.  Another favorite was a green soda pop bottle.  They also liked the plastic cap I placed over the shallow pvc well I had installed in one of the basins or ‘pans’  in the heart of the preserve.  I used the well to check the water depth in the shallow basins or pans that wander through the Preserve and the coyotes use the cap as a toy.  If I didn’t put it on securely I was likely to find it almost anywhere in the preserve with the tiny indentations of sharp little coyote teeth all around its perimeter.  (I tried to remember to put it on securely.)   

Another item that seemed to fascinate the coyotes was an amber plastic rain gauge.  I didn’t mind the well cap, after all, just as it was my responsibility to make sure the cap was securely fastened to the well pipe, it was the coyote's responsibility to try to remove the cap.  But the gauge was another matter.  You don't have a bog if you don't have water and you don't understand the bog if you don't understand  how water works in, on, and through the bog.  Consequently, I took weekly precipitation amounts at the bog.   After losing several weeks of data to the coyote's inquisitiveness I placed the rain gauge on a high pole.

The coyote's favorite toy, however, was a plastic yellow duck.  I first discovered this duck nestled among the reed canary grass. It wasn't until the staff began to remove the reed canary grass that the coyotes discovered the plastic duck.  This is not a small toy, nor is it light, so it must have taken some effort to carry it back to the playground and that is where I found it one day among the other toys...the green soda bottle, the black bar and chain oil container, some Styrofoam and the yellow duck, with its head missing.

The coyotes at the preserve were often a highlight of my weekly visits.   Always good for a chuckle and a smile, some times of tolerant frustration, I looked forward to seeing them, catching a glimpse of them as they followed behind me, and hearing them sing.  For some reason the coyotes left the preserve after I’d been there about a year and a half.  It wasn’t long after that I completed my work and moved on. The place just wasn’t the same without the coyotes.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Coyote Stories I

The coyote, Canis latrans has been as much a part of my family life as my brothers and my sister.  I spent my childhood in Southern California during and following the Second World War.  Early in my Middle School years my family relocated to the San Gabriel Valley at the base of the San Sierra Madre Mountains.  Things were much different in the LA Basin at that time.  There were fewer of us and much more open land.  From the back of our bright new post-war home to the base of the mountains were hundreds of acres of orange groves and thousands of acres of oak scrub and brush.  There were dove and quail, and rabbits and raptors.  There were also the coyotes.  I learned to listen for these little wolves and to watch for them along the sides of the dirt roads that, at that time, still crisscrossed the fields and orchards of Southern California.  During high school others things captured my attention, and imagination, and I didn't think so much about the coyotes.   But they were never far away and I would hear the yips and howls of what author Jack Couffer calls the Song of Wild Laughter on my way to an early morning college class or to my job washing dish and bussing tables in a small, local restaurant.   

My work with federal natural resource management agencies brought me East and along with me came the coyotes spreading across land they have once occupied.  From Washington, DC, to Florida, to Georgia, and now to North Carolina, this ubiquitous little wolf has only been a walk at first light, a full moon, or a shadowy glimpse away.  

For several years I served as Steward at Bat Fork Bog Plant Conservation Preserve,  a small native plant preserve almost in the center of Hendersonville, North Carolina.  It did not take me long to realize that coyotes were among my companions at the preserve.  The Preserve is located only a kilometer, possibly a bit more, from downtown Hendersonville and only a few blocks from the main fire station.  The coyotes liked the fire station; they especially like the sound of the sirens as the large red trucks lumber out of their barn-like shelter and roar-off on their missions of mercy.  The coyotes often accompany the sirens with their high-pitched howls.  I remember one of the neighbors living on the high ground to the west of the Preserve asking me if I was afraid of coyotes.  I told him I wasn't and he said "good, cause you sure have a lot of them in there," gesturing toward the boggy lowlands below us. 

(Image courtesy of Google)

(Continued in the next post)