Take It to the Limit One More Time

Planet Earth has always operated within limits–almost like an organism. But too there have been “accidents” that overwhelmed natural processes and created eons of disorder.

Runaway climate shifts of the past carried the land or sea beyond a state where life-as-usual could go on. Volcanoes erupted, continents smashed together, or a stray meteorite created a “nuclear winter” that set the state of living things back a few hundred million years.

But for the most part, long stable periods on Earth have been adequate to allow species to diverge and disperse, biomes like coral reefs and prairie and tundra to develop and forests to reach climax stability–what we would call OLD GROWTH forests today. It is almost non-existent in our times.

And for the first time in Earth’s history, we are thinking about the fact that our one species can perturb conditions in the air, soil and water sufficient to push natural resilience to and past the breaking point. And so there is growing talk about Planetary Boundaries.

Of note in the diagram, the light green is AGRICULTURE’s part in pushing the limits. Note for how many of these 9 boundaries land-care (the literal meaning of agri-culture) is a contributor.

We must change the way we wage war on the landscape, and begin to think intentionally about how we relate to and contribute to the well-being or dis-ease of the land. Margaret Meade said it well:

We won’t have a society if we destroy the environment.

And yet in our arrogance and ignorance we act as if we can push the limits–beyond the breaking point; beyond tolerance; beyond carrying capacity. Somehow our engineers and technological wizards will find a way, just in the nick of time, to cheat the odds so that we do not become yet another once-great civilization on the dust heap of environmental failures that have gone before us.

I will be looking a this soon–on February 11 at 2pm at the Floyd library. Topic will be “Living in Our Forests: From Ice Age to Anthropocene. Barbara Pleasant and Jane Cundiff will also have boots-on-the-ground information to share, along with this thirty-thousand-foot view of things.

This bit of it just bubbled up as I was looking back at my notes. Morning pages, you know.

More on Planetary Boundaries at Wikipedia.

Seeing the Forests

Found in my collections of snippets, a quote from Wendell Berry, one of the few wise men of our era, in my opinion:

To destroy a forest or an ecology or a species is an act of greater seriousness than we have yet grasped, and it is perhaps of graver consequence. But these destructions will mend. The forest will grow back, the natural balances will be restored, the ecological gap left by the destroyed species will be filled by another species. But to destroy the earth itself is to destroy all the possibilities of the earth, among them the possibility of recovery.

And adjacent to that quote and I think from this article, comes this statement about land use changes (forest conversion) in the modern era:

Nearly two-thirds of the net conversion to other uses occurred in the second half of the 19th century, when an average of 13 square miles (mi2 ) of forest was cleared every day for 50 years. By 1910, the area of forest land had declined to an estimated 754 million acres, or 34 percent of the total land area. In 2012, forest land comprised 766 million acres, or 33 percent of the total land area of the United States. Forest area has been relatively stable since 1910, although the population has more than tripled since then.

This data supports ONLY the notion that from the air, more acres are in non-pasture non-asphalt than in 1910. This is deceptive.

Many of the trees that exist in today’s “forest” (in fact almost all) will live only about 15-20% of their life expectancy if undisturbed. They will not produce “old growth” or even middle-aged growth for that matter.

Consequently, what we see from the air is a stand of trees (vast numbers in this count are even-aged pulpwood pine trees in laser-straight rows.) It is only vaguely a forest compared to that landform as it existed four hundred years ago.

The biodiversity of Earth has drastically fallen largely because the global forests, north and south of the equator, in which species evolved no longer exist. The water holding capacity, the oxygen producing abilities, the soil building process and especially for our times, the CO2 holding capabilities of today’s small-tree-populated Eastern lands are all homeopathic dilutions of the services that true forests once achieved for the planet and its living communities.

Going forward and in my dreams, we rededicate our species to live in peaceful coexistance with those living systems that allowed  our species to prosper and learn, create culture and art and science and technology.

If we don’t, all those marvelous humanities our kind has created and enjoyed for a few brief eyeblinks on the timeline of Earth will become a faint and fading trace record of yet another vanished civilization that thought, somehow, it alone was exempt from its debt to cosmic biology (insert divine providence or sheer random good luck here as your understandings would have it.) We are beholding, no matter, and our arrogance to the contrary is not to our favor.

It’s a Wonder-Full Life

I am happy to be often stopped in my tracks by wonder, but I wonder what exactly that is.

I know it when I feel it (or mostly when I have felt it, too immersed in the object of that state to be conscious of it or to care beyond the minor rapture of the moment.)

Attention-awareness is part of it; and curiosity; and a tacit sense of once-ness in the passing of the object or idea or scent or gestalt of the moment of wonder. Moments of wonder are benchmarks of real-ization out of a life of rote routine, habit,  and sensory numbness.

Wonder is a kind of deep-sight into ordinary reality around us.

  Are you prone to wonder? What draws your attention and curiosity and won’t let you go?  

 

I like the way Caspar Henderson has put it:

…wonder is, among other things, an act of deep attention. As I try so show in the book, it’s a radical openness in which we think clearly and feel good, and connect to phenomena or people beyond ourselves.

When one has these moments, it makes one think what more is going on here? What’s the context in which this is happening? Why, as a briefly-alive, historically-situated being, why am I wondering at this rather than something else?

What role does this experience play in my own sense of what makes the world meaningful? Where does that come from? Where is it going? In moments of wonder—this is my experience—you’re aware of your own ignorance, your own limits, your smallness, your mortality, and, also, I feel okay with that.

The best books on Science and Wonder — a Five Books interview https://fivebooks.com/best-books/science-wonder/

The High Places Made Low

Talus field along Nameless Creek–moss and fern-covered boulders tumbled down from Nameless Mountain –a high place that was gone long before there could be human views from the top.

One of the places I stand and ponder in our daily silvan peregrinations is up back, beyond the last extent of floodplain of which our five-acre pastureland is the remainder. Beyond that point, the path skirts high above the rock shelves and tumbling waters of Nameless Creek.

What now stands as the high country above us rises at least 150 feet above the creek, and so steep we have never been to it. This is all that remains of Nameless Mountain, as I think of it. It calved all these boulders that hikers dread to pass over and call scree, and which geologists refer to as talus slopes. Erosion, gravity and time lay green and jumbled, in place now for a thousand human generations.

Nameless Mountain–a crest pushed up during the Ancient and Early Blue Ridge mountain-building epoch or orogeny–would have been as high as today’s Himalayas or Rockies. Coming to full acceptance of this truth (remember truth? It was popular once) is easy to achieve after much practice, standing quietly above the creek and below the wasted remnant of mountain crest.

We are surrounded by traces of time to which our now-ness  makes us blind. Unfortunately, we have also become blind to time to come, and do little or less to make ready for the gravity of those challenges. They are as real as the mountain that once rose above Goose Creek and Floyd County and dominated what we think of as Southwest Virginia.

This is the place we call the Valley of the Bones. Our dogs often find remnants of mammals who have sought out the dark spaces under boulders to die.

Here is how one writer describes talus:

The very random placement of fallen boulders, slabs of rock and massive pieces of stone creates an abundance of small caverns, nooks, cubbies, and grottos connected by a labyrinth of narrow passageways, chimneys and tunnels. In shady places, such as in ravines, on north-facing slopes, and along the edges of streams and rivers, a carpet of moss frequently covers the surface of these piles of rock. In heavily forested settings, a layer of organic debris may develop in cracks and crevices that promotes the growth of some species of ferns, herbaceous plants and small shrubs.

Short and Pithy: And Never Mind

At some point last year, we at SustainFloyd were considering creating hats and mugs (as first items in a possibly longer line) for sale as a source of revenue to support our programs–like the Farmer’s Market, the Refrigerated Truck, the VoltzWagon, and so on.

We have decided not to do this, after I brainstormed one afternoon for some possible merchandise taglines. I just found them in the dead-letter box in one of my idea cubbies. For what it’s worth then…

  • ….for tomorrow’s well-being
  • We are, each of us, a Force of Nature
  • We are ALL forces of Nature
  • Every day is Earth Day
  • Earth and Floyd County: I’d never live anyplace else.
  • Earth: I’d never live anyplace else.
  • Earth: I just wouldn’t stay here without you.
  • Floyd County, Planet Earth: No Place Like Home
  • Honoring today’s soil for tomorrow’s generations
  • One generation plants the trees; another enjoys the shade
  • Standing together for the common good
  • Today’s food and forests build tomorrow’s future
  • Restore, recycle, reuse, rethink
  • CO2: Just Say No
  • Not Missing the Age of Carbon
  • Floyd County Food: Hug a Farmer
  • Floyd County Nurtures Nature
  • Floyd County: We ARE the Environment
  • Just Give Peas a Chance
  • We Root for Trees and Peas
  • I’m in the Market for Good Food!
  • In the Market for a Taste of Floyd

Owning our Own Ecology

In part, this essay is born out of the current local discussion within the Floyd County Board of Supervisors about the best way forward for the county. The fork in the road offers the options of continued reliance on “cheap” fossil fuels (if price at the pump is the only cost) versus making the transition to other no- or lower-carbon energies, as well as a commitment to using MUCH LESS energy, wood, and the stuff we purchase at a low price but a high cost to the well-being of people and planet.

…The bottom line is: Neither humans or non-humans can live healthy lives on an unhealthy planet. We cannot achieve a shared ecology of wellbeing if our personal ecologies contribute to the depletion and ruin of the planets living systems. And there are so many of us now.

…Will we amend our failed relationships with nature and with each other while there is time? By definition, no unsustainable process, movement or culture survives.

Essay Towards a Whole Earth Ecology posted at medium.com and appeared in the Floyd Press on 4 Jan 2017. Read more…