You live in the big here. Wherever you live, your tiny spot is deeply intertwined within a larger place, imbedded fractal-like into a whole system called a watershed, which is itself integrated with other watersheds into a tightly interdependent biome. At the ultimate level, your home is a cell in an organism called a planet. All these levels interconnect. What do you know about the dynamics of this larger system around you? Most of us are ignorant of this matrix. But it is the biggest interactive game there is. Hacking it is both fun and vital.
The following exercise in watershed awareness was hatched 50 years ago by Peter Warshall, naturalist extraordinaire. Variations of this list have appeared over the years with additions by Jim Dodge, Peter Berg, and Stephanie Mills among others. In 2003 I added new questions from Warshall and myself, and I edited or altered most of the rest of the questions to make them clearer or more relatable. I posted the revised quiz on my website in 2003, but it was hard to find. I also published the list on page 228 in my book Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. Rob Walker of Art of Noticing recently reminded me of it, so I am reposting it here. It’s still a work in progress. If you have a universal question you think fits, submit it to me.
I am extremely interested in hearing from anyone who scores a 26 or better on the quiz on their first unassisted-by-Google try.
30 questions to elevate your awareness (and literacy) of the greater place in which you live:
1) Point north. 2) What time is sunset today? 3) Trace the water you drink from rainfall to your tap. 4) When you flush, where do the solids go? What happens to the waste water? 5) How many feet (meters) above sea level are you? 6) What spring wildflower is consistently among the first to bloom here? 7) How far do you have to travel before you reach a different watershed? Can you draw the boundaries of yours? 8) Is the soil under your feet, more clay, sand, rock or silt? 9) Before your tribe lived here, what did the previous inhabitants eat and how did they sustain themselves? 10) Name five native edible plants in your neighborhood and the season(s) they are available. 11) From what direction do storms generally come? 12) Where does your garbage go? 13) How many people live in your watershed? 14) Who uses the paper/plastic you recycle from your neighborhood? 15) Point to where the sun sets on the equinox. How about sunrise on the summer solstice? 16) Where is the nearest earthquake fault? When did it last move? 17) Right here, where you are, how deep do you have to drill before you reach water? 18) Which (if any) geological features in your watershed are, or were, especially respected by your community, or considered sacred, now or in the past? 19) How many days is the growing season here (from frost to frost)? 20) Name five birds that live here. Which are migratory and which stay put? 21) What was the total rainfall here last year? 22) Where does the pollution in your air come from? 23) If you live near the ocean, when is high tide today? 24) What primary geological processes or events shaped the land here? 25) Name three wild species that were not found here 500 years ago. Name one exotic species that has appeared in the last 5 years. 26) What minerals are found in the ground here that are (or were) economically valuable? 27) Where does your electric power come from and how is it generated? 28) After the rain runs off your roof, where does it go? 29) Where is the nearest wilderness? When was the last time a fire burned through it? 30) How many days till the moon is full?
The Bigger Here Bonus Questions: 31) What species once found here are known to have gone extinct? 32) What other cities or landscape features on the planet share your latitude? 33) What was the dominant land cover plant here 10,000 years ago? 34) Name two places on different continents that have similar sunshine/rainfall/wind and temperature patterns to here.