October 1 will be an important day for me. That’s when the summer burn ban for Floyd County terminates. I would guess on the fly that at least fifty trees, mostly pines of under twenty feet in height, were shouldered to the lot’s edge by heavy equipment when my house was built. The process is known as “clearing”, apparently. “Clearing” doesn’t include cleaning up the mess you left along the periphery of the work zone—which, yes, also contains plenty of crumpled Shasta cans, shredded Nabisco wrappers, and rounded tins of Skoal.
These latter I cannot completely burn into oblivion; but I’m much more concerned, frankly, about the biodegradable debris, both because it’s infinitely more abundant in volume and because it creates hazards well beyond unsightliness. A good little footsoldier of the Green Movement would exhort me to pick up the wrappers and cans while keeping my fingers away from matches: just let Mother Nature go her natural way! But, you see, it’s not nearly so simple as that.
In the first place, the production of vast debris piles around the felled trunks—and I mean natural debris, such as dead leaves and dense briars—would become a major fire hazard if next summer proves more to resemble a dry 2017 than a wet 2018. Not just my own house, but the entire North Georgia countryside, would stand at risk should tinder of this kind be allowed to collect. How is Mother Nature helped when we pack her skirts with deadwood and then hold our collective breath in hopes that one cigarette or one lightning strike doesn’t incinerate several counties? The practice of burning the fuel beforehand may seem counterintuitive to the ingénue, but those are the real-world options: a controlled burn or a conflagration of the “not if, but when” category.
California’s rash of devastating wildfires, by the way, owes much of its genesis (pace Jerry Brown, Blessed Be His Name) to idiotic “conservation” practices that forbid the culling of dry, dead underbrush. Add to that environment populations of tent-city itinerants living on Mulligan stew… and you have proof positive of ruinous Climate Change, so it is said.
Then there’s the wildlife so precious to our acolytes of Diana. Understand this. Any disruption whatever of the environment, be it fully natural are wholly manmade, sends ripples of impact (if not tsunamis) among the routines of flora and fauna. Granted, the thick growth of weeds and briars on and around stacks of deadwood is a natural phenomenon… but the specific pattern is also quite unnatural. A forest left alone would not permit jungle-like underbrush to take over; and once given the run of the devastated scene, the low underbrush chokes out opportunities for other vegetation.
This, in turn, changes patterns of animal behavior. I’ve noticed that bird activity has grown much more lively where I’ve cleared the underbrush (or at least moved it free of the forest to await disposal). Deer are also much more likely to move through my cleared patches. I would speculate that the thorny litter must obviously have impeded low-flying songbirds and animals that trust in speed to survive; it also probably became an artificial incubator for snakes, which are never a bird’s best friend. I like snakes in their proper place: they eat mice and rats. But I see no need to erect Super 8 Motels for them all around my property.
My property… what a smug, bourgeois phrase (sneers the green saint from his lofty perch). The land would never have been cleared, in the first place, if I had just stayed away! Why didn’t I keep out of the forest?
It wouldn’t have interested this Jeremiah, I’m sure, that the property was already being “seeded” by deer hunters to gun down Bambi mom and gnawed away by developers who would have turned every last acre into a playground for lawnmowers. In other words, my intrusion would never be viewed as itself an act of conservation by the Green Crusade: no, that would deprive Righteous Eco-Warrior of a chance to claim moral superiority over yet another human being.
So allow me merely to repeat this observation. Everything we do has an ecological impact. The addicts and drifters who are living out of San Francisco’s dumpsters and defecating on her sidewalks may have a minuscule carbon footprint—but they aren’t simply throwing themselves into the bay to feed the fish. Their maintenance requires tax dollars that are raised, at least in some measure, through industrial activity. Sanitizing the environment they pollute also consumes resources; and those among them who stoke campfires on the edge of town to blunt the evening’s chill are not a negligible factor (I must also repeat) in California’s horrendous wildfire problem. No human has no environmental effect. Some end up having major destructive effects precisely through their ill-calculated efforts to “live as one” with the growing grass.
I conclude, then, with yet further insistence on a theme that my harp has strummed all week long. We need to engage the world around us in detail: we need to learn its intricacies rather than roping in select parts of it as background for a selfie. Too many of us too uncritically embrace childishly facile notions of “nature” and “green consciousness” only because we want to feel good about ourselves. The focus of our noisy advocacy is ourselves—our egotistical quest for moral superiority—and not the benefit of the cause for which we clamor. If you are among these boisterous “sensitive” youths, please stop sucking in all the air around you. Depart from your “avatar” long enough to make a tour of reality. Know something about your holy mission. Stop marveling over what it does for your image in the mirror, and start thinking about what you might do, sensibly and maturely, on its behalf.
And for the record… I have used as much deadwood as I can physically manipulate to build up terraces for my fruit trees, which will need well-draining ground. But I’m not Gilgamesh: I can’t take on the entire remains of Humbaba’s cedar forest. The burnt ash will fertilize the soil—that’s the best I can do for you.
If you’re so very worried about the Greenhouse Effect, how about turning your attention to studying the reduction of catastrophic pressures in volcanoes—a fearful phenomenon that happens to be an immensely more credible path to multi-species extinction? (Google “Yellowstone super-volcano”.) A young, environmentally conscious biology major once responded to that question, “Well… but there’s something we could do about the climate, and there’s nothing we can do about volcanoes.” Try parsing that one, without my help, for arrogance and a paradoxical defeatism!
Meanwhile… go cuddle a snake, and see how much joy it really brings you.