I’m a member of the Foothill Conservancy, because I have lost something. It’s difficult to explain, but the simple fact is I loved a small piece of rangeland, about half a section (320 acres) near the tiny town of Wallace in Calaveras County — and now it is gone. Well, it no longer exists as rangeland. It has been subdivided into 5-acre parcels or, as they are preciously called, ranchettes. My great-grandparents first acquired a section and a half of land around 1900 for ranching. The half-section in question is what my mother inherited.
I grew up taking the ranch for granted. It was always there, and I just assumed it always would be, especially since my grandmother was fond of saying, “This will be yours someday,” as we worked the cattle. Someday never came for a variety of reasons, but mostly because land is worth money, and when money is needed or wanted, land is sold. And when rangeland is packaged as ranchettes, it is sold for more money.
My sense of loss was profound. As I struggled to articulate the loss, I came to understand how much my identity was an expression of place, how much I was an extension of the previous generations who had worked the land. And even though the ranch is gone, I am irretrievably and inevitably tied to the Sierra Nevada foothill landscape. It provides the framework for my life and in the end I know I will be returned to the land.
It took some time for me to understand that even though I couldn’t save the ranch, I could help to save the greater landscape. I could help to balance the preservation of land with the development of land. I could work with like-minded people to retain the rural environment with which I identify. I could help the entire region and work to save our forests, our rivers and our wildlands.
In short, I could join the Foothill Conservancy “to protect, restore, and sustain the natural and human environment in Amador and Calaveras counties for the benefit of current and future generations.” Whatever your personal story, if you love the region, I encourage you to join me as a member of the Foothill Conservancy.
Muriel Zeller is a poet, writer and Valley Springs resident.