Monday, July 22, 2013

Catalina's Endless Urban Expedition

Catalina and some of her sketches.
Three years ago, Catalina Gomez Arias saw something more in Bogotá than bricks and concrete. That launched Catalina on an adventure which she continues today.

One of Catalina's man sketches.

A man walks thru Independence. The palm with the white
trunk is the wax palm, the palma de cera,
Colombia's national tree.

Catalina has criss-crossed Bogotá chronicling the city's sometimes exuberant, often struggling, urban flora. And it is often the meekest, most struggling and ignored fauna which most fascinates her.

Mateo and a native plant. He
 points out the paradox of biodiverse Colombia 
importing plants from overseas.
"Bogotá is a growing city," she says. "And as it grows, it produces cracks," in the sidewalks, thru which plants stuggle up. "And that produces nature which we call 'trash.'"

A decidedely not-native pine tree in
Independence Park in Bogotá.
Walikng past non-native palms
near the bullfighting stadium.
She photographs and makes intricate ink drawings of the plants. She displayed her work this weekend in Casa Tomada, a stylish cafe/bookstore in Teusaquillo's appropriately tree-lined Palermo neighborhood, as part of a comemoration of Colombia's Independence Day, 20 de Julio. While Catalina agreed that her work doesn't have any connection to Independence Day, her project's title does have a clear historical reference: to the famous Expedition Botanica, led by Alvaro Mutis, which documented Colombia's botanical biodiversity between 1783 and 1815. Sadly, Catalina observed, the exepdition's drawings are all in Madrid today.
Exuberant vegetation fills a canyon in
Bogotá's Eastern Hills.

Catalina's work has taken her up and down Bogotá's hillsides, where rivers still flow thru vegetation-choked ravines. In the city proper, most of the city's rivers, sadly, are buried in pipelines. In doing her work, Catalina has been frustrated by lack of interest from city institutions and even outright stonewalling from officialdom.

"The more they denied me the information, the more I insisted," she said.

Cyclists ride past huge, non-native trees
the National Park in Bogotá.
The resulting collection of sketches commemorates an urban ecosystem which is omnipresent but all but ignored.

Check out Catalina's work on Flickr:

Mateo Hernandez, an environmental restorer who gave a talk at Casa Tomada, said that Bogotá has made real strides in returning native trees to the city. A few decades ago, he said, all of Bogotá's street trees were exotic pines, ashes and eucalyptus. Today, about one third are native Colombian species. Similarly, Bogotá's Botanical Gardens has planted many more native species.

It's an advance.

Newly planted trees along Carrera Septima.
But are they native?
However, for native bushes and other smaller plants, the city has done nothing, Mateo says. And those plants provide necessary resources for insects, birds and other small native animals. He gave the example of the chusque, an invasive bamboo which provides food and shelter for many native species including birds, caterpillars and butterflies. For centuries chusque has been aggressively chopped down by residents of the Sabana of Bogotá, but Mateo said at least one stand survives in the Eastern Hills and there's another in the Botanical Gardens - altho the gardens' own workers, evidently ignorant of its importance, chopped that one back recently.

More encouragingly, however, Mateo said that the Eastern Hills' native tree species, which were harvested ruthlessly a century ago for firewood, are now advancing again over their historic habitat.

But their recovery will only be possible as long as that habitat remains. Buildings, often illegal or questionable, are invading Bogotá's hillsides - much of which is supposed to be a sacrosanct Forestry Reserve.

"Of ten steps," to restore local fauna, says Mateo, "we've taken only one.

Mateo blogs at:

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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