Six years ago, during late spring and into summer, on the eastern side of the Santa Rita Mountains, I perched barefoot and birdlike in mesquite trees and curled myself into a ball on an outcropping of rocks, as slow and snail-like as I could.
I did these things to pay tribute to the plants and animals that reside or pass through over 5,000 acres of habitat—grasslands, shrub forest, springs, and streams—that will be destroyed if the Rosemont Copper Mine is constructed.
At that time, Hudbay Minerals Inc. was still awaiting its permit. A dozen other dancers joined me, each with their own species assignment. Wide-eyed Valerie squatted like the Chiricahua leopard frog. Kate reached up and curled her body backwards like the Coleman’s choralroot orchid. Greg got on all fours and slinked down a narrow trail like the jaguar.
Some might think it odd or childish for adults to “make like animals,” but for us it was a form of reverence and research. We wanted to show what was at stake if the mine was built.
We worked with a videographer to document our movements into a video field guide called “Rosemont Ours”—an acknowledgment of the fact that we humans share the land with other species. It’s not yours or mine, it’s all of ours.
If you watch our video, you might laugh. Please do! People being coatis are funny. Coatis are funny. Delighting in nature was the point.
But not the only point. Because plants and animals do not exist solely for our enjoyment. They are inherently worthy and should be granted equal rights to the land and water we share.
When I began the project, I kept asking the naturalist who guided us over the terrain one cold day in February, “Which species are most threatened?” We couldn’t capture them all so I wanted to know which to focus on. But the naturalist kept evading my question. By the end of the day, I understood his refusal. Everywhere we walked—underneath stands of white oak, past the chinchweed, near Western bluebirds, in the footsteps of jackrabbits—the land was threatened. All the species are at risk if the Rosemont Mine is built.
By capturing as many endangered and common species as we could, we celebrated life in the Santa Rita Mountains and the nearby Cienega Creek and Davidson Canyon. We put ourselves inside of the landscape. To feel it. To sense its weight. To understand what was at stake. We invited viewers, the clumsy humans, to see these spaces and their inhabitants differently.
In “becoming animal,” I learned a lot about the clunkiness of the human body, how we lack agility to flit across branches, how our bare feet are tender without hoof or claw or talon, how inadequate are our wingless arms, how impossible our stillness. For all of our innovation and intellect and strength, we humans simply cannot match the nimble prowess of other species.
The labor and economic benefits of the Rosemont Mine are not enough to warrant the loss of this critical habitat and the species it sustains. If we let the mine be built on behalf of human progress and profit, we will be less worthy of this place.
We must let the talussnails be talussnails, mule deer be mule deer, cuckoos be cuckoos. We must let these species move us. Which means, now, at this moment, we must stand as still and as strong as humanly possible to stop the Rosemont Mine.