“It’s none of our business,” my wife said in response to my grumbling as we drove down the valley. I wasn’t quite foolish enough to remind her that she had voiced similar complaints the day before.
Over the course of several days we had observed from a distance the progress of a man working on a piece of property that he had just acquired. He appeared to be in his late 60’s, and we made up a story that he was recently retired and a newcomer to the area.
Over the course of several days, every favorite toy of the millennial male made an appearance, including a late model Kubota tractor with attachments and a Husqvarna chain saw and string trimmer. All these fine tools combined to transform a fallow creekside field returning to nature into a lawn to be mowed.
We’ll pick up on the conversation we started last week and declare in no uncertain terms that what the man did with his field, short of burying toxic waste, was absolutely nobody’s business but his own. But then he started playing with the banks of the creek.
First he sawed all the vegetation close to the ground. Next he burned several spots along the creek bank, using some kind of accelerant to start the fire. Apparently the shape of the creek was not pleasing enough to his eye, because he then dug along the banks with a backhoe to reshape the course of the creek.
If you’ve lived here long enough you will know that this is not the first creek in Towns county to be treated in this manner, and if you are at all conversant with Georgia’s environmental laws you could find several violations in the preceding paragraph.
We’re not here today to fight the “nobody’s going to tell me what I can and can’t do with my own property” battle. The ongoing struggle to maintain water quality and ecological health against the onslaught of profit oriented unregulated development is challenge enough, and we’ve made a lot of progress here on that front.
No, the problem at its root is one of perception, and if we can change that perception it would remove a lot of fuel from the economic fire that consumes mountain tops and destroys natural areas. While we may never be able to breach the self absorbed mind set that cuts down the trees blocking one person’s view from the top of the mountain (and spoils everyone else’s view of that mountain), perhaps we can chip away at the image of the manicured lawn as the highest and best use of a piece of land.
Let’s begin by paying our respects to Alnus Serrulata, the humble alder bush native to eastern North America and once quite common along the creek banks of our mountain counties. Alders are nitrogen fixing plants and they improve the soil wherever they grow. Their fibrous networks of roots stabilize the soil in wet areas, and many times in our own creek I’ve seen erosion by high water stopped in its tracks by mats of interlocking Alder roots.
Alders provide a much needed source of pollen for bees and native wasps early in the spring. Alder leaves provide shade for creeks and streams, keeping the water cooler for trout. With the demise of the eastern hemlock due to the woolly adelgid, the role of alders in the survival of trout is more important than ever.
Sadly, no trout will linger in the exposed waters of the creek passing through our neighbors field. Without a proper vegetative cover, heavy rain and high water will erode the creek banks, and the water will run brown downstream from his property. The areas he reshaped with his backhoe may never stabilize, and like several creeks in our area, the addition of unsightly riprap or shot rock along the banks may be necessary.
All of this to recreate the heavily marketed image of unbroken undulations of manicured green. Americans are conditioned to see that image as beautiful and desirable, but it is such a shallow image, and one that ignores the true beauty of a healthy ecosystem. It is the difference between a pallid complexion artfully concealed by makeup and the unadorned visage of a person with the radiant glow of good health.
“Everybody Complains, but Nobody Offers Solutions…”
…Said a wise friend. Alternatives and solutions to environmental problems are available if you look for them. But you have to want to look… So here’s an alternative in the form of an entire company dedicated to offering solutions. We’re proud to call them friends. Check out their good works at Applied Ecological Services.