A Meditation on Watersheds | by Leslie R. Kryder

Leslie Kryder of Albuquerque, NM (Rio Grande watershed) recently coordinated a group to work through the Bartimaeus Institute Online (BIO) classes, offered by BCM. The fifth class in the series is BIO-B01 Watershed Discipleship, and as a final class project, Leslie has undertaken “A Meditation on Watersheds” — a contemplation of her “place” and part of her journey of coming into her watershed. Please note that if you are interested in the kind of detailed mapping of your watershed that Leslie has done for hers, she is open to discussing a fee-for-service arrangement. If interested, please contact her here.

Of Watersheds and Sub-Watersheds: How local is local?

A group from Albuquerque Mennonite Church recently completed the Bartimaeus Institute Online courses, the last of which was titled, “Watershed Discipleship.” In it, we were encouraged to identify with “place” as a way of coming to really know and love where we live. The local watershed was recommended as the area of interest.

Rio Grande Basin Map

Thinking in terms of watershed boundary rather than some political boundary has several advantages. For one thing, it roots the awareness of place in a natural geographic area rather than an artificially defined area. By definition, all the waterways in a watershed run downward toward a single point. Presumably, there is some kind of ecological cohesion within a watershed, although, since elevation, latitude, and longitude can vary significantly throughout a watershed, climate and biosystems can vary radically. Consider, for example, the Rio Grande watershed, which straddles the Southwest US and northern Mexico. Its various branches have headwaters in southern Colorado, northern New Mexico, and northern Mexico, and it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The river is about 1,900 miles long. Palm trees grow in McAllen, Texas, near the mouth of the river, while pines and alpine flowers grow at the headwaters in southern Colorado.

(Map left: Rio Grande Basin, accessed at https://www.rethinkingtherio.org/media/files/Figures/Figure1_2x.jpg, July 10, 2021. Click map to enlarge)

The United States Geological Service (USGS) is the science agency of the Department of the Interior. Among many other responsibilities, USGS monitors the nation’s rivers. It divides our country into 21 regions, based primarily on surface hydrology. Each region corresponds roughly to a major watershed such as the Missouri River or the Rio Grande (although local “closed” basins, such as the Estancia Basin, which are not part of the major watersheds, are lumped together in the major regions). Each region is assigned a 2-digit hydrologic unit code or HUC. The Rio Grande is number 13. However, major watersheds can be subdivided according to tributaries into what are known as sub-watersheds (or sub-basins). Sub-watersheds have a 4-digit number: the first two digits are the major watershed number and the last two digits are unique to the sub-watershed, so, for instance, the HUC4 code for the area around Albuquerque, New Mexico, is 1302. The 1302 sub-basin can be further divided; USGS has defined subdivisions down to 12-digit HUCS. The HUC12, 130202030304, designates a sub-basin covering a large portion of the Northeast Heights area of Albuquerque, including the Albuquerque Mennonite Church Meeting House. For convenience, this particular code is named “City of Albuquerque,” although, of course, the actual City of Albuquerque extends into several other HUC12 basins.

When thinking about the “place” you inhabit, it’s probably more useful to identify with a sub-basin of the HUC10 or HUC12 size. It would be an interesting exercise to consider what is the ideal size of an area to call “home.” For the area around Albuquerque, I suggest both the HUC8 and the HUC12 areas. HUC12 is hyper local, a portion of Albuquerque, small enough that one could traverse the entire area on bicycle or even on foot, and really become acquainted with the natural and human environments. HUC8 is more of a “regional” size, and extends from the mouth of the Jemez river in Sandoval County to south of Socorro near San Marcial.

Betting that “to know you is to love you

Are you familiar with the musical, Anna and the King of Siam? The premise of Watershed Discipleship is that the better you know the “place” where you live, the more you will care about it. When I think about Watershed Discipleship, I am reminded of the lyrics of the song, “Getting to Know You”:

Getting to know you,
Getting to know all about you.
Getting to like you,
Getting to hope you like me.

Getting to know you,
Putting it my way,
But nicely,
You are precisely,
My cup of tea.

Hence, whether you choose to identify with your HUC2, HUC8, or HUC 12 watershed, the idea is to become thoroughly and intimately familiar with the place where you are. This can involve taking time to know the terrain, the flora and fauna, the climate, and so forth. It extends to understanding both the assets and the challenges of your watershed, with the idea that you can contribute to the betterment of your place. And the physical environment is a good place to start, not least because those of us who live in urban areas tend to be distracted by the human, built environment and miss the natural environment.

(Map right: Rio Grande-Albuquerque Watershed (HUC 13020203), Leslie R. Kryder, 2021 – Click map to enlarge).

But I think that truly “knowing” your home place involves more than the physical environment. It requires familiarity with the history of the place: who lives here now? Who lived here before, and what caused the changes? This ties in to the current emphasis on land acknowledgement. It involves understanding what affects the communities and institutions, what makes them tick. What are the traumas that shape the people, institutions, and environment of this area? What are the strengths of the community, both human and all living beings? What factors affect the health, education, wealth (or poverty), and civic engagement of those who live here? And finally, what are we, individually and collectively, called to work on to improve life in this watershed?

It’s also important to know and understand the religious communities that reside in the watershed. Who are they? What is each congregation engaged with and passionate about? In this way, one can begin to tap into the invisible, spiritual factors that affect places and the spiritual calling of congregations, Christian and otherwise (cf Walter Wink’s brilliant description of “the powers” in The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium, Walter Wink,1999).

(Map left: Albuquerque Area (HUC 12 Watersheds), Leslie R. Kryder, 2021 – Click map to enlarge)

One reason to focus on a sub-watershed is that it is highly local. You can not only become intimately acquainted with it, you can also have influence on its functioning. A place to start is to traverse your sub watershed, see it, feel it, get a good sense of it. Attend community events, celebrations, neighborhood association and city council meetings. Visit houses of worship. And prayerfully consider how you might be called to plug in to your watershed and what efforts and causes you want to be part of.

Leslie R. Kryder, Albuquerque Mennonite Church, New Mexico

One thought on “A Meditation on Watersheds | by Leslie R. Kryder

  • Reading this brings a sense of joy to my soul. It makes so much sense in this day and age when church attendance is on the decline, to be asking what is my congregation’s spiritual calling, what are we passionate about? Who would have thought how important it is to understand what has shaped the current environment in which we live? This meditation highlights how important looking into and seeking answers to these questions is.

    Liked by 2 people

Comments are closed.