Thursday, March 31, 2011

We now resume our regularly scheduled nonsense

Hey lookee here, I have a blog!  Sorry for the extended hiatus.  Here's a tip kids, you might want to write this down:  When you promise the world (or the dozen or so people in the world who care what you write, which for me is the same thing) that you are going to do a series of posts detailing one of your deepest inner conflicts, be sure to do it during your absolute busiest time of year - when you're talking to so many customers that your cell phone makes that wet suction cup sound at the end of the day when you finally peel it off your ear.

But my list of half-baked thoughts and half-completed essays is growing too long to ignore, so I will have to make the time.  Not to complete them, since that will never happen.  Just to post them as they are, which is bad enough.

To step back, here is what I'm hoping to accomplish.  I grew up in the Minneapolis western suburb of New Hope, which was outer ring when I was born, and decidedly inner ring by the time I "grew up" and moved away.  I watched surburban development lay low the primarily oak forests I knew as a kid; the deforesting work the bulldozers started was finished - usually unwittingly - by construction damage and oak wilt.

At the height of this western suburban expansion I worked summers at a local nursery & garden center, and did some freelance landscaping as well.  I saw first hand what was being planted to replace the native trees & shrubs that had been lost:  Non-natives like 'Crimson King' Norway Maples, potentillas, spireas and a (small) handful of others.  Planted and then surrounded by plastic landscape fabric covered in tons of crushed red limestone. (Which I bagged at the nursery, and which they - stupidly - allowed me to load in customer's pick up trucks with a Bobcat.  Note to everyone who purchased bulk crush rock from that nursery in the mid 1980's:  Sorry about your paint job.)

I am old enough to have sold buckthorn and purple loosestrife, two exotics that have become invasives on an epic scale.

People did plant one native:  Green ash.  Seedless green ash.  A LOT of seedless green ash.  With emerald ash borer here in MN, that won't be working out so well.

I enrolled in the Urban Forestry program at the University of Minnesota to accomplish two things:  Learn how to protect existing oak trees from construction damage, and champion the replacement of vegetation lost to construction with native species.

I was a Native Plant person.

I am not any more.  I support and believe in the attempts to restore native landscapes.  But the scope of my thinking has grown to the point where a strictly native view of planting doesn't make sense to me any longer.

Our landscape, for those of you who haven't noticed, is not a "native" landscape any longer, and never again will be.  My biggest concern is the jillions of acres planted in corn and the effects that has on our use of fossils fuels, the devastating effects that has on our soil, and the equally devastating effects that has on our health.

I want to see that corn replaced with woody tree crops, especially oaks.  I want us to get back - yes, back, since it was our staple food for happy millenia upon happy millenia - to eating acorns.  To make that vision viable given today's populaton, that means planting hybrid oaks.  That means selectively bred non-native oaks.

The oaks of California supported an indigenous population of an estimated 300,000 people.  There are a few more people there now, and a lot fewer oaks.

My view of what is native have changed.  Native when?  Native where?  I have started thinking more in geologic time rather than "real time," (maybe that's because my age - and my 10k times - can now be tracked with geologic time) and taking a longer view of what is considered native, and how earlier humans interacted with the landscape in a way that "artificially" created what we have come to view as "native."

I have seen the Homo sapiens-centric tendency to view the landscape as "fixed" in time, and to view any changes in that landscape as "bad."

The enormous species elasticity in oaks has taught me that the "species" part of planting "native species" is equally open to debate as the "native" part, and is not in any way fixed like we were led to believe.

But I have also learned about and read about the devastating effects of moving plant material around the globe (after Plant Pathology lectures on chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease I wanted to shut myself in a dark room and weep, and never wanted to move another plant more than 100 yards from its "native" spot for fear of triggering the next epidemic).

So there's my dilemma - native or non-native - viewed through the prism of oaks.

Here's my plan:  2 posts per day, 1 on this topic and 1 on the usual oak related silliness.
I will fail miserably.  Guilt (a birthright I'll never shed) will ensue.  But I'll do my best.

Thanks for reading.

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