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  • The Interconnected BioregionTransregional Networks in Mary Austin's The Ford
  • John Peterson (bio)

If you stand on our front porch and train your ear to the west, you will hear Little Santa Anita Creek. The water flowing through this creek originates in the San Gabriel Mountains, the craggy, chaparral-covered range that serves as the northern border for much of metropolitan Los Angeles, as well as the small town of Sierra Madre where my family and I live. Little Santa Anita Creek spills out of the San Gabriel Mountains into a granite-lined wash that winds through the canyon where our house stands, following a southeasterly course until it reaches the settling ponds that Sierra Madre uses to recharge the Raymond Basin aquifer, historically the city's main source of water. In fact, since the founding of Sierra Madre in 1881 the city has depended entirely on local sources of water, a point of civic pride that residents have used to distinguish themselves from surrounding communities within Los Angeles County. This distinction is further sharpened by Little Santa Anita Creek's historical relationship to the Los Angeles River. As part of the Los Angeles River Watershed, the creek was originally included in the Army Corps of Engineers' blueprint for channelizing the LA River and its surrounding tributaries in order to enhance regional flood control; however, during the 1960s local residents vigorously opposed the plan, successfully arguing that channelization of the creek would have "irrevocably changed Canyon aesthetics," while also reducing "infiltration back into the Raymond Basin aquifer" (Zack 300). According to historian Michelle Zack, "The town's resistance to the Corps, then, represented an historic David v. Goliath confrontation and Sierra Madre was the first and only community to effectively reject the federal plan and the funding that came with [End Page 157] it" (301). Thus, if you walk from our front porch to the end of the street, you can stand on a footbridge and watch the creek flowing over granite rocks preserved by these activists, a visual reminder of the intimate connection between Sierra Madre's communal identity and its local water, one that until recently had stood in sharp contrast to the links between Southern California's regional identity and imported water.

The break from Sierra Madre's historical reliance on local water came in 2013 when, as a result of drought conditions and overconsumption, the city was forced to begin importing water for the first time in its history. This water was purchased through the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District and imported from the Colorado River. Thus, after more than 130 years of water independence local residents found themselves within the larger historical paradigm that is Los Angeles's relationship to water: members of particular watersheds yet dependent on distant watersheds to satisfy their considerable thirst. Stand on our front porch and you can still hear Little Santa Anita Creek. Stand in our kitchen with the tap on and you can hear the Colorado River being rerouted to Southern California. This hydrological complexity highlights a fundamental point of debate within the discipline of bioregionalism: How do we imagine ourselves as members of particular bioregions when the ecological characteristics of those regions are deeply connected to regions far distant from our "life-places" (Thayer 3)? Bioregional writers interested in accounting for these complexities are thus faced with the dual task of fleshing out the local ecology of their region while also illuminating the transregional connections that shape that ecology. The editors of The Bioregional Imagination: Literature, Ecology, and Place acknowledge the importance of this point in their anthology's introduction: "We wholly concur that a localized sense of place is incomplete unless augmented by a sense of how that place is integrated into the wider biosphere and the global network of cultures and economies" (Lynch, Glotfelty, and Armbruster 9). Since the publication of The Bioregional Imagination in 2012, California's drought has reached historically unprecedented levels, lending a more urgent focus to the ways in which local regions are hydrologically "integrated" with other regions. This essay will explore this [End Page 158] transregional integration by examining the means by which scholars have sought to frame...