Tuesday, June 22, 2010

California Dreamin'

I was just in California.
When not crusading to go "back to the future" and establish a modern balanoculture (culture of acorn eating) I sell horticultural and forestry growing supplies. Always have, always will. Coming up with ways to grow things better and help plants overcome the unique stresses they face in a modern world of uncertain climate, increased deer damage, and a plethora of exotic and invasive weeds and insects is what I do. It's in my blood.

The trip was fantastic in two respects. First it was a great reminder that even in these difficult times there is opportunity everywhere if you look hard enough (and many times even if you don't).

The second was to see the oak-dotted hillsides (with the grass dried to its summer golden brown) with new eyes, the eyes of a balanophage. It was in California among its many indigenous cultures that acorn eating survived the longest, well into the 20th century as common practice and to the present among those who are working so hard to preserve their traditional way of life.

I love the work I do in the vineyard & orchard industries, and the endless creativity and drive to do things better and more efficiently on the part of the farm managers I call on. But driving through California I see constant reminders that this industry is an artificial construct, the happy but temporary and ultimately unsustainable marriage of virtually unlimited sunlight and extremely limited irrigation. Turn off the water and within months you're back to desert with just the skeletons of grapevines or almond trees.

I see the fuel that goes into growing these crops, and the unbelievably hard work that it takes. I have immense respect for anyone who makes his or her living by growing crops.

But when I see the oaks on the hillsides of California I see both the past and what I hope will be the future. These oaks were actively tended by the Native Americans who relied on them for a large part of their diet, but since those oaks evolved to grow there they didn't require much work - just occasional burning to reduce competition and make acorns easier to gather come autumn. These oaks supported a very large population - a pre-European contact population that was, by all accounts, extremely healthy and well fed, and a population that could gather a huge percentage of its caloric and nutrients needs for the entire year in a few short weeks of work.

... and yet everyone I know in the horticulture industry works extremely hard and is constantly complaining that they never have enough time to do enough fishing or just plain relaxing.

The answer is right there, on those golden hillsides.

And if I could get me cell phone camera to talk to my email I'd have pictures to show you... I'll work on that tomorrow.

UPDATE: Here's one photo of an oak-dotted Central California hillside. Makes me hungry. Makes me long for a simpler life.

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