“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.” – Helen Keller. ** The pasture behind the loafing shed looked silver in the horizontal light of late evening. That silver was the filter of the painful, sharply barbed seed heads of Downy Brome grass. In the sagebrush steppe environment these bunch grasses fed millions of bison, antelope and deer every spring. Early, soft, sweet spring growth mowed by wave after wave of large mammals. But in the useless efforts of humans to organize the earth with fences and the bizarre belief that there is some sport or pleasure in killing large mammals – some eaten, most not – this “foxtail” grows and spreads and covers ground that has been severely disturbed by other human disturbances, mostly poorly advised or ignorant agriculture. And not being grazed repeatedly has created a taller, more prolific grass. Now the waves and waves are the windblown clouds of spiked seeds that fill porches, gardens, barns, the eyes of cows, and dogs, and birds, and native creatures, sprouting everywhere they find even a hint of moisture, digging into skin if that is the only source – all the result of our inhabiting this landscape and disrupting the natural processes.
What I’m about to say will sound politically incorrect. You will just have to get over it. And before I say it, I should reveal that about a third of my family have been and still are in conventional, corporate agriculture, and I worked very closely with small operators in watershed management projects. The latter folks are not the folks I’m referring to here. The smaller operators have always seemed to be open to new ideas when economy and long range goals are supported. Conventional, traditional agriculture is primarily practiced by men, and the men who claim to know everything about “agriculture” would approach this pasture issue with lots of herbicide, plowing, seeding, chemical fertilizing, and irrigating. I will say that generally their next year the new seed comes up nicely. And every year the mechanical processes are repeated. This practice is a choice based on information, on advertisement, on expediency, and let’s be honest: something about men and large Tonka toys, overcoming the Earth and forcing their will on dirt. My value judgment on this: it is a tremendous use of resources (for a moment consider the cost in resources of creating a John Deere tractor, or swather, or baler, or all of the above because to process hay you need them all.) There is something to be said for occupying the time of that Guy in the tractor. What else would he be doing if he couldn’t sit in an air conditioned tractor with Sirius radio blaring country music in the cab going around in squared off patterns all day long….I suppose there is always NASCAR.)
Restore your place in on the planet. In the spring I start by moving the five cows onto the areas of the property where the spring bunch grasses are thick. As spring progresses rotational grazing helps to manage the growth. In late spring, when the growth is less palatable for domestic cows, mowing comes in. Any seed head that is produced is very short, low to the ground. Mowing stresses the grasses. For unpalatable bunch grasses the stress reduces the vigor. In the extremely short growing season here in the Great High and Dry, cool season grasses can do very well on very little water, and the mowing or grazing of the green plant forces the grass to produce roots, rhizomes, spreading and creating turf, increasing the organic matter in the salty clay dirt. Turf-building grasses starve out the short-season bunch grass. Sweet clover – a nitrogen fixer – finds small open patches in the new culture and mowing or grazing releases the nitrogen from nodules on the dying root ends. Controlled flood irrigation works best as the rhizomes follow the moisture in the soil and spread by following the irrigation water. “Control” is the key term here. Too much water will result in more bunch grass. Mowing exposes grass hoppers to the meadow and horned larks and robins and sparrows that follow the mower. In the fall I have allowed the cool season grasses to go to seed, and I add seed. Invasive exotics – like the knapweed brought to the US in the 1950s in alfalfa seed from Afghanistan – are controlled with very well timed, very limited spraying. Tiny, poppy-seed-sized black beetles were released in this area for Canadian thistle. They eat the core of the seed head out, significantly reducing seed production. Mowing of thistle does the same thing and stresses the plant. Limited, well-controlled herbicide application is a TOOL. Integrated “pest” management is one of the few agricultural terms that effectively hits the mark.
The world is integrated. When we believe that we are somehow separate and apart from our environment the patterns we see and the patterns we impose are contrived, come from our need to not feel helpless in the midst of such richness, complexity, violence, variability. Chaos. Sometimes we just need to sit on the ground, feel defeated, let it pass, look again, consider, and seek something new as part of the viewshed.
While it’s still cool outside, before the 90 degree day sets in, it’s time to water and feed the ducks and geese and move them to areas to eat the weeds and grasshoppers, time to move the cows off of the rich grass to the weeds for a few days, time to water the veggie garden, water and weed the nursery, and harvest more black currant….8 pounds so far from one five year old plant…chokecherries are just beginning to turn rose-colored, raspberries are peeking out from the coolness of the plant, green grapes are so heavy I had to prop them up with cottonwood branches…if you are reading this you are among those who are blessed to have the time and place to even think about it……and the world goes on…..NOTE: This ability to observe the environment, to interpret those observations, to listen to our ancient intuitions WILL BE THE ONLY REAL PROTECTION AGAINST TERRORISM. NOT THE GOVERNMENT, NOT THE POLICE, NOT THE MILITARY, NOT THE INTELLIGENCE NETWORKS, NOT THE ANALYSTS. BEING AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS AND THE DIS-EASE IN THOSE AROUND YOU WILL BE THE ONLY THING YOU CAN DO. Wake Up. Live in the World.