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Graffiti and other signs of the times.

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
January 20, 2000


I have never gotten too upset over Graffiti, seeing it as disenchanted youth showing visual contempt for society. I realize spray paint is just another form of rebellion. Another reason, sometimes, just sometimes, the street art is far superior to that of the signs and billboards littering our communities. Like it or not, grafitti serves as a sign post that tells us how far off track we have become.

In my humble opinion, defacing a building is less offensive than removing endangered habitat to place that building there in the first place. The scribblings of the disenfranchised are no less damaging to the environment than the advertisements promoting consumption. Plain and simple, if the system was really committed to stopping graffiti vandalism it would outlaw spray paint. To be honest, when I was a kid, my favorite form of vandalism was defacing wet cement, but that's a whole other column.

With that said, I recently came across a collection of graffiti which saddened me to no end. This was one of those sign posts I referred to. At the risk of seeming to waffle, it is important for me to voice this, as it is important consideration for us all.

Last week some friends and I decided it was time to assess the condition of Box Canyon. A natural pool located in Carlsbad along the San Marcos Creek, Box Canyon is currently being threatened by development interests. Some of which, including the owner, who are calling for the blasting of the canyon walls to prevent people from jumping in to the pool and the possible litigation resulting from such an action. A visit from an activist friend from Santa Cruz prompted this daring bit of civil disobedience.

It had been a decade since I had made my way down the steep hillsides to visit the pool, the three adults accompanying me had yet to experience this native experience, so we were all eager to throw caution to the wind and risk the chance of getting busted for trespassing. For those of you who haven't been to Box Canyon lately, a massive chain link fence now serves as a barrier to keep man and nature segregated.

Undaunted, I knew entering from the East would get us to where we wanted to go, while providing a challenging hike in the process. Dropping into the canyon we took a trail even a goat would think twice about, only to find a wrecked automobile that looked to have been there for decades. Talk about futility, the car had been tagged. at the time I didn't recognize this car for the omen it was.

Accessing Box Canyon from the East allowed us no trail. So we carefully made our way over boulders and through dense native vegetation, only to find our destination nearly covered in graffiti. I couldn't believe how much damage had been done to such a beautiful place. Graffiti and garbage was now the dominating feature, and amidst all the tagging a swastika loomed large. My memories of this place were now forever scared. What should have been a refuge from the modern world now resembled an urban alley, complete with broken bottles and discarded condoms.

As I sat there completely dumbfounded by such disregard to natural beauty, I had to ask myself what was the point of saving this place from developers, when local youth could not find it in themselves to respect what little bit of open space that remains. If defacing buildings shows a complete contempt of society, is the defacement of Box Canyon evidence of a contempt for nature? And if so, what is to be said of a culture whose children can callously lay waste to the natural resources that support them?

By no means should this column be seen as a call to dynamite Box Canyon. To the contrary, it is my belief that the canyon, in it's entirety, must be protected from both man and machine. To that end Box Canyon should be the focus of a major restoration effort and then just left alone. Set aside as ecological preserve, Box Canyon would serve as wildlife corridor and refuge for the indigenous plants and animals rapidly disappearing from Southern California.

I also believe we must get kids out from in front of the alienating influences of television and slay stations, and into nature in ways that don't include alcohol and vandalism. Another way to instill a basic sense of environmental responsibility, is the creation of environmental curriculum for all school levels. If any semblance of biotic diversity is to be retained we must teach our children the importance of accommodating species other than our own.

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