Re Rustica

  (Squaw Valley, California)
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Fire, Forests, Climate Change, Grasses and Farming

Fire risks are increasing as the global climate changes.  The increased temperature and decreased rain dries out the land and the vegetation on the land.  To prepare Herself for more adapted vegetation, Gaia allows fires to scorch vast acreages.  We don't intend the anthropromorphism of Earth to allude to some kind of pantheist theology, but refer to the Gaia theory of Dr. James Lovelock. 

In his landmark work, he sets forth the mathematical algorithsm necessary to predict and understand global weather, geology and biospheric phenomena.  When the sum of billions and trillions of factors - most of them living, breathing creatures - can be anticipated through math, it is easy to believe that earth is not so complicated a place, after all!

Yet the picture Dr. Lovelock paints is dire.  We are preparing for a new age of the world.  In the first age, the living creatures of the Earth stabilized the oceans from oxidization and evaporation through the manufacture of oxygen by photosynthesis.  During this first age, the ancestors of animals developed: microflora dined on the ancestral plants in the warm seas. 

When the atmosphere oxygenated, the second age began: the earth cooled and nearly killed all the micro plants and animals.  When this occured, the vast numbers of dead creatures allowed the evolution of a whole new class of creature: the necravore.  The eaters of the dead digested their dead fellows and produced vast quantities of methane, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses. 

During this age, the earth began to gradually warm as the solar radition increased: the sun is gradually growing larger and more bright.  The balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide and methane has changed over time through ages so that recently the atmosphere was mostly nitrogen and oxygen, with decreasing or negligable quantities of carbon dioxide and methane.  The decreasing quantities of greenhouse gasses kept the earth cool.

But as the earth warms despite the increasing oxygen content of the atmosphere, there arrives a crisis: soon, there is so little carbon dioxide that those classes of creatures that eat the carbon dioxide (especially in photosynthesis) must either become more efficient or find alternative sources of carbon. 

The grasses are one of the newest plants to have evolved, and are ready for this new age.  Already, they present trees, bushes, slight ground covers and fill most ecological niches.  They are ready and waiting for the carbon-hungry plants to burn away.

Grasses are also more tolerant of heat, drought and the other challenges of this new age.  Whether we humans shall prove to be as tolerant is questionable.

To protect our structures, our selves and the animals and plants in our direct care, we must keep our 5 acres of the Sierras fire safe.  Normally, large herbavores would browse the dry wood and brush, keeping the trees wide and spacious, the brush lithe and verdant, and the grasses trimmed back. 

However, the extinction or near extinction of large herbivores has forced the people of the Sierras to either import domestic cattle, goats, equids and other herbivores, and pigs, geese, chickens and other omnivores.  And also to lend their hands to the problem. 

Our government fights the fires as best as possible, but acknowledges the fires cannot and should not be utterly stopped.  They are healthy for the forest, both in its present form and for its future development into a grass forest.  The giant grass trees of Asia (bamboo) rose in response to the same conditions we now face.  We are assured by Dr. Lovelock and other scientists that in time, the horrific fires that we are already getting used to will become rarer as the ecology adapts.

But for one factor.

Humanity is releasing vast quantities of carbon dioxide, against the global needs for less.  While this might be balanced against the good stewardship some of our species undertakes, it accelerates the progression from one age to another possibly faster than the animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms can adapt.  Instead of taking millions of years, we are seeing changes take hundreds of years.

Whether this is cause for despair, as the dismal Dr. Lovelock suggests, is debatable.  It is possible that this problem is easily overcome, that by human efforts, creatures can be bred to fulfill difficult niches.  It is possible that the fires can be mitigated long enough for creatures to adapt.  It is possible we can directly impact the atmosphere in a way that helps the entire planet.

Certainly, it is in our interests to make sure the transition from one age to another as gradually as possible so that we, ourselves, can adapt and fulfill our destiny.  So that the grasses can adapt and fulfill their destiny.

Humanity loves grass.  Though, globally, our principle food crop is the potato (a tuberous and VERY carbon-hungry shrub), we have recently acquired a growing taste for grasses: oats, wheat, rice, rye and corn, especially.  Though the first agricultural crop cultivated was the potato (simultaneously in Africa and South America), the innovation of bread during the 1st and 2nd millinia BC has not yet been regretted.  Grasses are delicious, nutritious creatures, ready to serve the needs of our species.

Grasses (bamboo) form the mighty timbers of our species' mightiest and largest cities, grasses tidy up what messes our newest space-age nuclear wastes by bioaccumulating the pollution for easy harvest and disposal.  Grasses feed our favorite domestic animals.  They can be made into plastics, they can be made into fuel.  They are our newest and best friends.  Surely, our mutual love ties our fates together: having evolved together at the end of a great age of the earth, we are both uniquely able to tolerate and shape the transition to the next phase of our planet's existence.

So we trim back trees and trim back brush, and introduce friendly herbivores to our lands, and succor as best we can the native large herbivores that remain.  In doing so, we must ensure that the brush is not entirely destroyed - it is important habitat - and that not all the deadwood is removed - it is also important to countless species.  A dead tree is not a hazard to everyone, it is someone else's home.  These are difficult tasks - nature knows best what trees to keep and which to fell, which forests to spare and which to burn.

But when nature has been harmed, our only choice until She can be healed (and we are doing our best to increase biodiversity, the cause and meaure of nature's health) is to do what little and clumsy work we can to defend ourselves and those creatures in our care.  Our fire fighting efforts are centralized about the 2 acres immediately surrounding our farm structures where solutions are very clear: keep vegetation low or absent within 100 feet of strucutres, and if trees are to be kept within that frontier for shade, food or other necessary service, keep deadwood off the trees.

This is not only common sense, but is law: the fire code of our land requires us to reduce the risk of fire to our structures. 

The wood we trim is not wasted, but is used to construct a perimeter fence for our farm, fences for our fields, perches for our birds, blinds for our privacy.  The mighty trees of our forest are precious things, but in these strange days, are dangerous creatures nearing the end of their age.

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