Friday, December 21, 2007


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (12/20/07)

In a time when angst, alienation, and vitriol are fashionable, a conversation with Cynthia Warzecha is refreshing. She isn’t angry at her parents or ashamed of the place from whence she has come. She embraces them and sees her life as an adult a continuation of her life as a child in northern Minnesota. Her face shows it as do her hands, resting comfortably in her lap. At ease with her background, she’s at ease with herself and thus with other people.

As she said, “In a Lake Wobegon kind of small town in northern Minnesota there aren’t many diversions, except the local tavern and the outdoors. My family chose the outdoors. I went fishing and agate hunting with my Dad. An outdoorsman, hunting for him wasn’t just a sport, but a way to put food on the table.” Never losing her love of the outdoors, as an adult, she has worked to sustain that world, the natural world, as the artificial world encroaches on it.

As such, she is currently the Area Assistant Agent, Natural Resources and Agriculture with the Coconino County Cooperative Extension, all of which means that she is on the faculty of the University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She’s the first natural resources agent in Coconino County.

Rather than merely embracing her childhood in northern Minnesota, using it as a foundation, she’s has developed it. Her family valued education, but being of modest means, they couldn’t help her. As the first member of her family to seek a college education, she had to pay for it with work, grants, fellowships, and loans. So when she graduated from the University of Minnesota with both B.S. and M.S. degrees, her education was an achievement. She always wanted to accomplish something with her life and saw education as the way to do it.

She has taught English in Germany and worked for the Department of Transportation in Michigan, mitigating the adverse effects of new road construction on the environment, both natural and social, such as the disruption of communities. Her life then and now has been two-faced in that she faces two ways, natural and social and the intra-action betwixt the two.

For her, the world doesn’t work like a machine with interchangeable parts, but as an organism with feedback, each member affecting the others. Rather than external, human relationships with the environment are internal. For her, nature isn’t “out there,” something that human beings observe as an object apart from themselves, such as “going out into nature” as though they were going out into the backyard. Nature isn’t a part but the whole of something, not an object, but the subject. In short, human beings are as much as part of nature as the Ponderosa or Arizona fescue. Her task is to see that the two don’t destroy each other, such as wildfires, which means that she has to work with “all sorts and conditions of men,” as the Prayer Book reads.

Her task is the sustainability of nature, that is, the conservation of natural resources, such as keeping the watersheds healthy and unpolluted. In addition, she works for the welfare of those unprotected biological communities as they intra-act with those pesky creatures who seem bent on befouling their nest. In working with human beings, her ease with herself is her secret weapon. Graciousness always seems to work.

She isn’t on a crusade. She’s doing a job. The job is to sustain nature so that human beings can continue to enjoy themselves as members of nature. For her, the Biblical mandate to subdue the earth is a call to sustain it for generations to come.

A tall, slim, attractive woman who likes to wear sweaters, Cynthia Warzecha is making the world richer for her presence. One of her enrichment activities is teaching a Master Naturalist Class in the fall. Then it all comes together that nature is not only out there, but right here. For her, sustainability is self-preservation for the human race.

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