Sunday, August 2, 2009

Nature, and nurturing nature, and the nurturing of nature-nurturers

A well-nurtured, properly husbanded 2009 ewe-lamb called Poppy takes a safe nap. Who's going to get me clean water, fresh grass, a little oats, and a safe fence and guard dog to keep away coyotes today? Who will observe me to make sure I'm not sick or lame? Who will make sure I can get to the oats without the big sheep getting there first?

After a rare day off yesterday, in which Aimee and I had a nice jaunt to Belfast town to see Harry Potter and find me some new steel-toed work shoes for the fall, and a new coffee mug to replace the one that fell of my sawhorse Friday, I'm still in reflective mode.

My morning muse, apart from my fine new coffee cup, is nature, chewed in tooth and saw.

As it should be. (Some of the time at least.)

This is about being involved in and aware of nature and what it does for us, and about being aware of and involved in husbanding or stewarding the resource, and what kind of frame of mind that really takes.

Two articles in interesting contrast, the Observer's's science writer Robin McKie spouting off about how ridiculous organic farming is, and one of my favorite organic farm blogs reflecting on rotational grazing, are what got me going.

Then an article about how the removal of coppice management has changed British woodlands, reducing biodiversity, and another about one woman's foray into butchery, added to the muse.

This is probably tedious to the non-farmer/land managers who read this blog, and I should probably get to my day's work before the heat arrives, but this is actually terribly important, and for my own satisfaction at least I should work out what is irritating me and record it.

The main link between all these articles is involvement. Of humans. And awareness.

Are people aware and involved?

Aware of where their food and water and shelter and fuel come from, and involved in their production in some meaningful way?

Or are they the normal kind of post-industrial zombies, slavish consumers just hanging on until the next paycheck and the next fix: the next night out, vacation, shopping trip, fill-in-the-blank, consumer experience.

It seems to me that the big problem we have is that we have no clue about where any of these things comes from. Ignorance conspires not just in the routine ingratitude that we have for nature, as well as the dislocation and commodification of the primary human-natural connection, which is subsistence, but it is also implicated in the fake romanticization/Disneyfication of nature that pervades in the new students I see each year in my classes, fresh from Animal Planet, and it directs the willful destruction of biodiversity and ecosystem services that surround us, which I see primarily as a direct result of that romanticism.

Of which the last, willful destruction, is by far the worst, and the one that will eventually threaten human life, is threatening human lives, as this combination of an energy crisis and climate change and all the problems that result take hold.

(You're going to have to read all four articles to see where I'm going with this, or this post will just be confusing.)

Ordinarily I'd agree with the Observer guy, organic can be overblown and faddish, if not at times downright cruel to animals: there's a use for pesticides and herbicides and livestock medicines, but in the right place, at the right time.

Ordinarily, Throwback at Trapper Creek annoys me with posts about homeopathy, which I find unscientific and silly. But she's right on with this monologue about grazing, and you can see how closely she watches her animals and pastures.


Butcher lady is totally involved too. Fascinating. And the coppice article is likewise fascinating and resonating. On our farm we manage woodlands for firewood and light grazing, as well as rural and biodiversity conservation, and the difference we have seen in just a few short years of letting light into the lower stories is huge. We're not trying to make a "natural" woodland. This old farm hasn't been natural since Israel Thorndike, that old pirate and serial abuser of Englishmen, had it cleared up 203 years ago. We are instead trying our best to look after a self-seeding American elm colony, that seems to have developed some small imperfect immunity to the blight, as well as a collection of heirloom apple trees, a herd of sheep, while removing to landfill a collection of ancient household and farm trash, to reveal instead a woodlot/pastureland that produces both food and fuel with vigor and efficiency.

You can't maximize four variables at once but you can understand how they work in system, or try to, and optimize.

It takes involvement. And awareness.

Thesis: A serious person who is involved in and aware of their surroundings and their connection to their own life will find out where their food and shelter and water and energy comes from, and take a hand in their production, learn to manage food, water, shelter and energy systems practically and unromanticly, and help provide them for others who cannot or will not manage them themselves.

In doing so they will become more human, more humane, more authentic, more compassionate, and will contribute to helping save the planet and humanity. They will also lead more compelling and interesting lives, keep a little healthier and fitter from better, more wholesome food, and some regular hard work and exercise, and possibly even better appreciate the other workers, human and natural that support them.

I think this is what I am trying to achieve for my students with my education and public service and research work, as well as for myself with my farming activities.

This all seems now to me to be the real point of human community and sustainability praxis, or husbandry, or stewardship, or what-you-will, that we have these systems and they work well because we look after them, and that they can be made to work in the very long run, and that individuals, particularly my students, are engaged and involved in providing for this long run.

Energy and climate crisis notwithstanding. Hopefully we can avoid both, but if not, at least some of our youth will be prepared to try to continue the human story.

McKie is wrong and being a bit of a twit to boot. Organic farming is not the solution, and it never has been, but learning how to be involved with our farmland again, and in particular how to reduce the energy needed to produce food is vital. Organic farmers may at times be scientifically ignorant, but they are energy efficient, for the most part. And they are involved and aware, which I suspect he is not. The point that will last, that will add to the longevity of the human story is the low energy use.

(Not the avowal of pesticide use.)

This also seems why our local anti-wind nimbys are so annoying. (Card carrying romantic environmentalists all.) Do they have any clue where energy comes from and how we plan to provide for it in future years? They are just as bad, in their own way, as the big wind companies, who given a chance would plaster GE 1.5s on every hilltop and shoreline in Maine, turning us into an energy colony of the lower 47. A green energy colony, but a colony nonetheless. I enjoy all the local small scale community wind groups I'm working with because they take responsibility for both the energy and the obvious nuisance that can be caused by badly sited wind turbines. They are aware and involved in the development, management and stewardship of the resource.

That may be enough for now. This is turning into a rant.

I have a date with a shelter/energy efficiency-enhancing project, my almost-done R 36 walls, and I need to be aware and involved for that or I'll cut a finger off with the chop saw. But first I have to re-set the rotational grazing fence and feed and water and move the sheep, feed the sleepy pigs (pigs love to lie in in the morning and I like to see them sleep so happily. Even though we plan to eat them, they deserve good lives too, as long as it lasts. No-one lives forever.), and take the trash and recycling to the transfer station because that is what you do in Jackson on a Sunday when you're done drinking coffee and reading newspapers and posting on your blogs.



Read it and point taken. Hoping to follow in similar footsteps. We are gathering our own wood now and working on our garden plot (it stinks this year but this is our first year in VT so next year should be better). I do believe in a wee bit of romantacism of nature, though, and that I get when hiking on the Long Trail. Although, it is quickly shattered when a mighty hail-producing storm comes marching overhead. Ha!

Mick said...

An intrusion of reality in your romanticized view?

Of course, any "Harry Potter" fan has no business complaining about romanticization, unless, of course, it's the extremes of Disneyfication that cause the worse damage, which I think is true.

The parks and trails systems of this country are, as Burn's says in his new show, "America's best idea." It's their commodification that is the problem, as well as the fact that in hallowing the parks we routinely ignore all the other bits in between, for which we are just as responsible if not more.

Like my grown-over orchard that I've been clearing out, for instance.

Thanks for reading, Deanna.