At Home in Nature

  (Agate, Colorado)
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Ancient and modern wilderness preservation

Though the names of Roosevelt, Mills, Muir, Thoreau are known in the United States as advocates for conservation of natural resources, the first time natural resources were conserved by a government was during the reign of the Emperor Ashoka I of what is today the Indian subcontinent.  While the first efforts at conservation were religiously motivated and our modern conservation is motivated for economic and political reasons, the result was surprisingly the same.

Emperor Ashoka reigned in 269 BC, and converted to Buddhism 5 years later after conquering all of what is today known as India, Pakistan, some of Iran, Burma and Tibet.  One of the first human rulers to write autobiographical information, and express not only his laws but the reason behind his laws in writing, we have an intense understanding of his mind.  In one such account, he wrote “I conquered the Kalingas eight years after my coronation. One hundred and fifty thousand were deported, one hundred thousand were killed and many more died (from other causes). After the Kalingas had been conquered, I came to feel a strong inclination towards the Dhamma, a love for the Dhamma and for instruction in Dhamma. Now I feel deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas.”

In penance, he freed his people, but they remained loyal to him because of his strong dedication to the Buddhist faith, his fair laws, and humanitarian principles.  Under his reign, we also saw the first acceptance of religious freedom (other religions were tolerated and Buddhists were not given special privileges, he commanded “All religions should reside everywhere, for all of them desire self-control and purity of heart” and “Contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others. I desire that all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions”), but monks sent to convert the Greeks, Chinese, Tibetans, Egyptians and Africans, and numerous Buddhist laws were proclaimed, ranging from protecting animals from cruelty and in some cases from hunting, to the protection of flora, fauna and the land itself.

The conservation of nature began first with a protection for particular species and kinds of animals from the Emperor’s own plate and hunting.  Then, as Ashoka’s faith grew, he ceased hunting and limited the number of animals that others could hunt in a year through a system of licenses (much like we have today).  Rare animals were especially protected, but so were new mothers and animals that were young (just like today).  Integrating animal cruelty with preservation efforts, Ashoka commanded (among other laws) “cocks are not to be caponized, husks hiding living beings are not to be burnt and forests are not to be burnt either without reason or to kill creatures. One animal is not to be fed to another.”

Like today, large and small animals were protected.  Even queen ants were protected by Ashoka.  Also, like today, animals (and people) were guaranteed rights to health care and shelter.  Free roadside rest stops were provided much as trailheads and trail services are provided in some of our parks, with food, water and shelter for people and animals.  He wrote, “I made provision for two types of medical treatment: medical treatment for humans and medical treatment for animals. Wherever medical herbs suitable for humans or animals are not available, I have had them imported and grown. Wherever medical roots or fruits are not available I have had them imported and grown. Along roads I have had wells dug and trees planted for the benefit of humans and animals.”

The result of a conservation system being the same whether religiously or secularly motivated is not astonishing when it is understood that, as Thoreau wrote, “In wildness is the preservation of man.”

 
 

Early dietetics in Texas

Sometimes a glance back at the origins of a science are as enlightening as the most recent research.  So little has changed fundamentally since its beginning, while so much detail and understanding has been gained!  Nutritional science, pioneered by the likes of Dr. John Kellogg, MD and others, had as an original an innovative goal the improvement of the quality and duration of human life through a treatment of food as a medicine.  This brought western dietetics in line with eastern medicine, and set the foundation for today’s astounding advances.

However, the complex science of dietetics was difficult to bring to the people.  Thinking of food as something more than what filled the stomach or an enjoyable luxury required a leap of understanding that the average American was unprepared for.

The first dieticians had to explain things in very practical terms, not only producing new cookbooks, but also explaining the importance of eating well.  Jessie P Rich of the University of Texas was one of these pioneers and, on November 22, 1913, ten years before Dr. John Kellogg would write his own attempts to bring the science of nutrition to the public, wrote Simple Cooking of Wholesome Food for the Far Home.  Rich begins the work by explanation of nutrition’s importance to children, “No subject on the farm at the present time is receiving so much attention as .the proper feeding of the farm animals.  The cows are given a measured amount of meal, and succulent material, and the pigs a carefully estimated ration intended to develop a pig best suited to its intended use. How is it with the boys and girls on the farm? Is their food as carefully studied and administered as that of the farm animal?  Is it prepared in a way to give the greatest amount of nourishment for the least expenditure of bodily energy? No farm asset is as valuable as its boys and girls, and yet they are more neglected, when it comes to the question of proper food and cooking, than the less important asset—the stock.” 

And with this excellent introduction, Rich explains the way food is used in the body, introducing basic food chemistry of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals.  Rich is then able to explain the importance of food safety, and provide excellent arguments for vegetarianism: cooking food makes it lose nutrition, and the foods that are safe to eat uncooked are not meat.  Rich advocates the integration of beans and eggs, cooked at a low heat, into the diet as the best sources of protein.

While filled with many quality and vintage traditional Texan favorites, the potato soup seemed like the best to me. 

 

Potato Soup

 

Three medium sized potatoes, one quart milk, two slices onion, three tablespoons butter, one and one-half teaspoons salt, two tablespoons flour. 

Cook potatoes in boiling salted water; when soft, rub through a strainer. Scald milk with onion in it, remove onion, and add milk slowly to potatoes. Melt the butter, add dry ingredients, stir until well mixed, then stir into boiling soup; cook one minute. Season and serve.

 
 

The history of fungicide - A case study of Rust

Spring is the time when what we harvest in autumn is determined.  Planting is half the game, tending is the other.  Good forethought in both allows success.  For those of us planting wheat and other small grains this year, we should not fear rust – the war against rust has already been won.

A good place to start is with the god of war.  Incidentally, March is named after the Roman god of war, Mars.  But most people don’t realize that this fearsome god also was the guardian of farms and ranches!  March was an ideal time to begin war and begin the new agricultural season, and his festivals were celebrated in this month.

While his Greek counterpart, Ares, is similar in many ways, Mars is quite a different fellow.  He was venerated as part of an ancient trinity of Jupiter and Quirinus.

Quirinus, less known to our modern Greek-oriented society, had no Greek counterpart and was the god of the State, the spearholder, Janus.  Quirinus was the Sabine god of war, and later became the deified Romulus, and his priests were venerated for being able to prevent rust in crops by sacrificing puppies.  In the last days of Rome, the Roman trinity no longer was Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus, it was Juno, Minerva and Jupiter.  During these last days before Christian Rome, the Quirinus was worshiped only by his Priests, who, after turning over their rust protection job to the Priests of Mars, were content to have the only function in Roman society as proceeding the Pontifex Maximus (a title that literally means “Great Bridge Maker,” or the connection between the world of the gods and our human world).  During Christian Rome, the title was assumed by the Pope, who didn’t have much need for Quirinus, or the ancient roman trinity.  But I digress.

Mars was born out of jealousy.  Juno, jealous of how Zeus gave birth to Minerva after a really bad headache (when Minerva came out of his forehead, he felt better), Juno wanted to do the same.  Not the headache, but the self-propagation.  Flora, the goddess of spring, was consulted and prescribed a particular flower.  Dubious about experimental drugs, Juno tested the herb on a cow, who gave birth at once (PETA had not been invented yet).  Juno then took the drug and, after retiring to Thrace, gave birth to Mars.  For the brief time of the Romans, women looked to Juno for help in easy childbirth.  And Flora for conception. 

Mars was very much loved by Venus, but he loved Nerio, the goddess of Valor.  Nerio was originally a female version of Mars, but for whatever reason the Sabines decided that one god of war was better than two.  It seemed to work for them.  Mars was represented by both the woodpecker and the wolf.  Mars was one of the few Roman gods to be clean shaven – from head to toe.  When Julius Ceasar shaved himself all over, it was not just for cleanliness, it was to emulate and perhaps personify the god…a frightening tactic in ancient Rome!  When Mars was victorious, Nerio would decorate his spear with flowers or other vegetation.

His priests had several functions in ancient Rome.  They would leap and dance in full armor before war to gain the god’s favor, they would bless treaties and ask Mars to keep peace, they would supervise other Priests to make sure that all the ceremonies were done properly (securing the treaties with heaven – the Romans made deals with the gods, that if they did rituals in such and such a way, the gods would fulfill their promises to love them).  But they also sanctified farms and ranches.  Mars became associated with the supreme gods of all those whom the Romans conquered, and earned new responsibilities along the way. 

The god seems to be retired now, but his Priests are not available for comment.  Sacrificing puppies hasn’t worked for some time in warding off rust.  And many treaties have been broken.  Rumors disagree.  Perhaps he is happily retired, raising cattle, pigs and sheep with his wife, Nerio.  Perhaps he’s gotten into goats.  In any case, his wheat fields are as beautiful as ever, always free of rust.

Preventing rust begins with good soil maintenance.  Tilling in the aisles to maintain biodiversity of microorganisms and maintaining biodiversity of macroorganisms in the field is a great start.  But rust thrives where there is insufficient evaporation of excess moisture. 

Jethro Tull, the first scientific farmer, reviewed the work of his predecessors with disappointment in his Horse Hoeing Husbandry.

“The Ancients did not take notice that there were several kinds of blight, neither did they inquire after their causes.  This lack of curiosity and observation prevented them from learning their causes and developing effective remedies against blight.  They called it in general by the name of “rubigo” or “rust” for the likeness of the blighted straws and leaves to the color of rusty iron.  They thought it came from the gods since they were ignorant of the natural causes.  Virgil, who was very sincere when he had no hopes of great gain by flattery, tells the common farmer in plain terms that if his grain is eaten with the blight, that there is no better advice than to comfort their hunger with wild acorns. 

Virgil was a cheery, helpful and hopeful fellow. 

But the optimism of Virgil aside, Palladius at least contrived to, as Tull explains, “conjure sympathies and antipathies with the clouds.  And when prayers and sacrifices would not prevail with the clouds, the ancients proceeded to threats to scare them.  They brandished bloody axes against the gods  as a summons to surrender or expect no quarter, but unless these peasants had better means than the Titans  in besieging heaven, it may be believed that their menaces were in vain.  Palladius thought, as many of the ancients did, that Heaven was to be frightened from spoiling the fruits of the field and garden with red cloth, the feathers or the heart of an owl, and a multitude of ridiculous scare crows.  The ancients, having no rational, logical, scientific principles of agriculture, placed their chief confidence in magical charms and enchantments .  Those who have the curiosity and patience may read of them in Virgil, Cato, Varro and even Columella (as fulsome as any of them!), all written in very fine language (which, I freely admit, is not all the erudition that can be acquired from the Greek and Latin writers of agriculture in verse and prose). 

So, what is a modern farmer to do, if threatening atmospheric water vapor with axes doesn’t work, and they happen to be sort on red cloth, or can’t find owl heart at the supermarket, and you’re not inclined to slaughter your puppy?  Where does rust come from when all the gods are asleep in their marble ruins?

In our modern day, it is easy for a farmer to hop onto Wikipedia and learn that “Wheat leaf rust, is fungal disease that effects wheat, barley and rye stems, leaves and grains. In temperate zones it is destructive on winter wheat because the pathogen overwinters. Infections can lead up to 20% yield loss - exacerbated by dying leaves which fertilize the fungus. The pathogen is Puccinia rust fungus. Puccinia triticina causes 'black rust', P.recondita causes 'brown rust' and P.sriiformis causes 'Yellow rust'. It is the most prevalent of all the wheat rust diseases, occurring in most wheat growing regions. It causes serious epidemics in North America, Mexico and South America and is a devastating seasonal disease in India. All three types of Puccinia are heteroecious requiring two distinct and distantly related hosts (alternate hosts). Rust and the similar smut are members of the class Teliomycetes but rust is not normally a black powdery mass.”  Understanding (or not) about fungus diseases, an antibiotic is available, or if not, precautions can be taken to reduce fungus in the field.

There are plenty of natural and artificial fungicides (not one of them is made out of the intestines of a puppy sacrificed in March, though).  But we need not bother with them.  Nearly 300 years before Wikipedia was a dream, Jethro Tull discovered the source and solution to rust.

By understanding that the problem arose when too much moisture was on the field, he sought to reduce field moisture through wind and sun powered evaporation.

Air, being a fluid, moves most freely in a straight line.  A straight line offers the least resistance to its parts: a straight river runs swifter than a crooked one (at equal declivity) because less of the water strikes against the banks at turnings.  The banks slow the river.

          The air cannot pass through broadcasted wheat in a direct line because it must strike against and go around every plant (they stand all the way in its course and stop the current near the earth).  The air in the broadcasted corn (like water amid the reeds on the banks of a river) is stopped in its course so that it becomes an eddy.  And, since air is more than 800 times lighter than water, we may suppose its current is more easily retarded – especially near the earth where the wheat has the occasion for the most air to pass (for though the upper part of the wheat is not able to stop a flow of current of air, it can hinder it from reaching the stalks.  Thus the air around the stalks in broadcasted wheat remains stagnant).  The thicker the wheat is – where it stands promiscuously – the less the air circulates.  The greater the number of stalks, the more air they require.

          But the confused manner in which the plants of broadcasted what stand is such that they must all oppose the free entrance of air amongst them (from whatever point of the compass they come).  Now, it is quite otherwise with wheat that is drilled regularly with wide aisles .  Through the aisles the wind can pass as freely as water in a straight river where there is no resistance and communicate its fertilizer  to the lower (as well as) upper leaves.  The air can carry off the wastes the plants emit and will not suffer the plants to be weakened (as animals are when their lungs are forced to take back their own expirations and debarred from a sufficient supply of fresh untainted air).  The benefit of fresh air is plentifully and pretty equally distributed to every row in a field of hoed wheat with wide aisles.

Tilling in the aisles, besides improving root density, increasing soil fertility and improving the health of the roots, also improves the health of the leaves and above-ground parts of the plants as well. 

This spring, plant your grains in beds and aisles, and you won’t have much reason to fear rust.

 

 
 
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