The True Value

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The true value of health (of ourselves or our environment) can never be measured in dollars or consumables. As the costs from the loss of serenity harmony and quality of life are steadily rising in correlation to our own self neglect and increasingly crushing and fermented economic footprints it is the celebration of life's regeneration that makes living joyful meaningful and fulfilling.


The road to the capital and the hospital where I seek care from a kidney specialist is ever changing. Driving east on Highway 37 across the vast marshlands north of San Francisco Bay I've been struck by the extensive expanse of open space where the highway meets the water's edge.


In my short span of twenty years of driving the narrow I-80 stretch of the corridor I have witnessed how the nearby small rural farming towns have exploded into tract-filled sprawl mall paradises by creating instant indistinguishable freeze-dried communities.


I began to wonder &ldquoWhat is the true value of the marshlands&rdquo (not only in terms of their economic worth or their impact on our health and quality of life) but in terms of world health and the diverse species that have but one globe to call home?As a self-indulgent and indifferent youth nature rescued me and offered me a source of hope and spiritual refuge.


Subsequently as program coordinator for a local Sonoma County environmental education non-profit I began to notice my stamina deteriorating and increased joint pain while hiking in the field. Blood work revealed a possible chronic renal condition (either IgA nephropathy or Polycystic Kidney Disease) as evidenced by multiple bi-lateral cysts high toxicity levels and low red blood cell scores.


In 2004 while teaching abroad in Thailand I was forced to resign because of my worsening condition and began to pursue the long path toward kidney transplantation at Kaiser of Sacramento having landed a job in El Dorado County upon my return to the US. During my many trips from the house I owned near the coast eastward toward the Sierra I started to ponder the similarity of meandering brackish tributaries and rivers running through out the delta as a network of veins and arteries pumping life throughout the entire Bay Area.


I paused to reflect upon the windswept surfaces and contemplate their ecological significance by relating to the wetlands as &ldquothe kidneys of the planet&rdquo carrying away waste and debris while filtering the heart blood of the estuary with fresh water.


The ecological niche of our increasingly rare indigenous shrubs and forbs is that of a giant filter and sponge by maintaining water quality and cleansing pollutants which pass through them attracting a rich array of beneficial insects fish birds and animals. The marsh fibers create a tough mesh that resists exotic weeds by spreading deep roots outward.


Deep penetration allows the land to absorb and hold precipitation in the watersheds while preventing flooding and trapping soil moisture. In addition diatoms and grasses provide year-round sources of biomass and forage for wildlife and domestic livestock. If we attempt to calculate the true economic value of local habitat we often tend to measure it in terms of agricultural &ldquoteroire&rdquo (in this prime growing region with its gentle Mediterranean climate.)


Land owners tend to undervalue wetlands except for the direct benefits they might reap from them such as farming hunting fishing trapping camp rentals mineral exploration and their removal. Faced with the realization of a kidney transplant myself I have come to the rather obvious conclusion that the ultimate function of a marshland is its ability to sequester trans-locate and eliminate toxins.


We must remember that waste water dumped into wetlands and estuaries is normally primarily treated and secondary treated but virtually never tertiary treated to chemically remove nitrates phosphates and the like. This process is left up to nature alone. Therefore we must not ignore the life support work that these natural areas carry on without development.


This &ldquofree service&rdquo which nature provides must in turn be properly evaluated before any kind of subsequent development is considered. Common & ldquoecological &rdquo sense tells us that the true value of the land is greater than all the resources which may be extracted from it.


We must consider actions like recharge flood conveyance and erosion in lieu of events like Hurricane Katrina. In the summer of 2006 my brother was determined ineligible as a living donor. I was devastated. Fortunately my best friend stepped up and offered to be my donor and was recently deemed an acceptable match.


Cruising back home to Sonoma County to commence proceedings in San Francisco I noticed how the once seasonal shacks located along the banks of the Petaluma River serve as reminders of a simpler time.


Those shacks are now becoming new million dollar properties not only here but nationwide not just because of their proximity to efficient twenty-first century economies of amenities but because of their proximity to those swampy muck filled marshes and estuaries where one still dreams of sitting idly observing the increasingly precious poetic beauty of the moment watching the clouds and sunset or waiting for the turning of the tide.


The true value of health (of ourselves or our environment) can never be measured in dollars or consumables. As the costs from the loss of serenity harmony and quality of life are steadily rising in correlation to our own self neglect and increasingly crushing and fermented economic footprints it is the celebration of life's regeneration that makes living joyful meaningful and fulfilling.

&ldquoHugh Slesinger is a teacher naturalist and eco-conscious real estate agent living in Occidental.&rdquo