By Juan Sebastian Silva
After a few cold and somewhat rainy days in Wageningen, a sunny Sunday awaited us. Early in the morning we set off for Vorden, a picturesque little town where you can feel the warmth in the middle of the streets. On this short visit, we were accompanied by Rob, a Dutch friend who, with great passion for his work, would guide us between the 17th century castles that once belonged to the aristocratic families of the time. His explanations in fluent Spanish, the result of personal experiences in Latin America, immediately connected us with history and took us back in time through a book full of photographs that would act as a mirror of today’s landscape seen through the eyes of yesteryear.
As we walked through several states (similar to the “haciendas” of the Ecuadorian Andes), the water from some canals circulated between the imaginary of extinct swamps and non-existent mills. The latter were used to evacuate water from old communal lands that were perhaps considered unusable for human interests, becoming the infrastructural solutions of the time to control nature. As a result, many wealthy families have taken possession of these properties, some of which are maintained as private property, while others are managed by civil society initiatives.
At present, these reconstructions of nature are imperceptible and we learned about them through a journey in time that showed us how a landscape has been reconfigured, where hiking trails are now opened in the midst of forest plantations that are confused with primary forests and water canals that recreate a unique landscape beauty. As I walked through this enveloping nature, I thought about how some rivers in my city, Riobamba, are trying to be restored through similar strategies, where man tries to make decisions based on his knowledge and technology.
Feeling a nature built and planned by human decisions made me internalise several questions in my feeling-thinking. Undoubtedly, what my senses perceived influenced what my mind understood and defined. My eyes, fascinated by the shades of colour; my ears, enveloped by the rustling of the autumn leaves; my touch, caressed by the slow and non-turbulent flow of the local waters; and my sense of smell, sweetened by pristine aromas, make me want to return to such a peculiar place. However, this seemingly perfect functioning probably hides other not so benign stories that have raised personal and moral questions about what I long to see in my daily landscape.
In Ecuador, the flow of many waters has been diverted and even suppressed to satisfy different interests and needs. In some cases, the lack of housing and the absence of a clear public policy have led to river spaces being co-opted by impoverished social groups to provide the shelter that the habitat could not. In other cases, opulent initiatives have seen the opportunity to increase the size of their private property, reducing them to small ditches that overflow every time it rains, causing new devastation in the cities affected. In other words, the presence of streams and rivers has been uncomfortable in many ways.
Now I ask myself: what does my environment need? some rivers and streams have been reopened and seem to have recovered? A new nature, reconfigured by political and technical decisions, plagued by populism and demagoguery? or a pristine and romantic nature? but at what price?