Keepers of the Commons

by Teresa Matteson

We are charged as the keepers of the commons. The common, precious, ubiquitous natural resources, such as soil and water, used by many for short-term interest and protected by few. As non-regulators, we trudge an uphill path to educational opportunity and landowner trust.

Aerial Interpretation 2

Benton County conservation from above

Taut budgets are compensated through abundant dedication. Focus is troubled by boundaries, ownership and competition. Accomplishments are tallied in restored river miles, contact head-counts, and invasive treatments. Handshakes, smiles, and heartfelt partnerships slowly influence practice change, the impacts of which may go unnoticed in a lifetime of observation.

A fresh perspective brings comfort to this daunting responsibility. The birds-eye view, as seen from an airplane, transforms the jurisdictional jigsaw into a velvet quilt of geographical wonder. Towns, watersheds, agriculture, forests, mountains and ocean fold into the earth’s contour as natural resources integrate with land use.

Lift-off from the Corvallis Airport showcases Willamette Valley waterways defined by verdant riparian biodiversity and functional ecosystems. Land meets water. Management issues melt as individual notions evaporate into the holistic vista. The region becomes my backyard.

Conservation from 10,000 feet

Conservation from 10,000 feet


Agriculture is orderly. Fields trace arable soil into geometric delights of well-defined polygons, meandering rows and pivot circles. Bare soil hues proclaim underlying parent material as basalt bleeds to red clay and a millennium of climate returns sedimentary formations to ochre sand and silt.

A left turn out points us toward foothills bathed in hazy swaths of forest green and an azure spectrum of baby blue to indigo. From Rainer east of Seattle, Washington to northern California’s Shasta, stark alpine peaks gash a jagged horizon.

As I glance back to the Willamette Valley, agricultural dust trails and irrigation lines remind me of the human role, conservation partners, and my passion.

The keeper’s reward is gratitude. This Oregon is a magical place.