Paradise on Earth—In Ohio

Chestnut trees, likely circa 1870. These forests are gone, but it's within humanity's power to bring them back. Imagine this photo in color, and imagine what it must have looked like above these men.

Chestnut trees, likely photographed in the 1870’s. These tremendous forests are gone, but it’s within humanity’s power to bring them back. Imagine this photo in color, and imagine what it must have looked like above these men.

Here’s an idea for you, one that I’ve seen or heard repeatedly recently—the idea that “sustainability” isn’t an adequate goal, but rather that we need to go beyond just sustaining our degraded world, and strive instead for restoration. Now, this is a bit of semantics which rests on just how narrowly we define “sustainability”, but regardless, it’s a valid thought. And, something I saw in that video I posted the other day of a talk by Mark Shepard really brought this home. In what is likely to be the longest quote I’ve ever included, let me write it out here. First, he put up a photograph that he had taken, of a soybean field before harvest. That image was quite similar to this one—

A field of soy---not the way the land used to be.

A field of soy—not the way the land used to be.

And this is what he said about it—

“This is a soybean field. Yes, it happens to be a genetically modified soybean field. I am standing, however, right in front of a plaque, looking out over this area here. . . [The plaque is about how,] during the Jefferson administration, before the Louisiana Purchase, they took a bunch of surveyors. . . and told them to go west in a straight line, and carry this steel measuring chain, and every six miles to stop, and record what they saw. This is somewhere in east south-central Ohio, and here, [where this plaque is], the team reported that they had just come out of old growth forest, out of these hills [behind them]. . . [They reported that the forest] was American chestnut, eight to ten feet in diameter, so close together that they had a hard time getting their horses through. As an understory weed, underneath these giant chestnuts, were sugar maples, with three and four-foot diameter trunks, that had no branches until sixty feet up in the air. Imagine sugar maples—the biggest sugar maples you’ve ever seen—as an understory shrub. Amazing. Well, then they come out into this opening, and they were like, ‘Oh, my goodness’. There were scattered . . . three to five gigantic oak trees per acre in this opening, and the list of animal species was a “who’s who” of wild kingdom North America. Mountain lions hanging out in the trees, deer and birds. . . [the mountain lions] had so much to eat, that none of other animals were afraid. There were bison and grizzly bear and brown bear, all east of the Mississippi. There were elk, ground birds in huge flocks, and one of the things that was most noticeable, was that the grasses, in this grassland that they went through, were over the heads of their horses. . . These were real human beings who came out of this old-growth forest, and into this clearing, and really did see this. And that was some of the allure that brought people down the Ohio River valley, this incredibly abundant, fertile, heartland of America in the Midwest. . .”

And, then… they proceeded to cut it all down and start plowing, which degraded the soil, continually, until today.

But, I think, if we all put our minds to it, that, as challenging as our environmental problems are, that they can be overcome. The technology exists. We can quit destroying the planet, we can safeguard natural species, we can let paradise regrow. In fact, with regard to the American chestnut, groups like the American Chestnut Foundation are working very hard to develop chestnuts that have genetic resistance to the blight that has killed billions of these trees. 

Later in the same talk I quoted above, Mark Shepard mentions that we often think that someone else will fix our environmental problems; that someone else will provide a solution. “They” will fix it. But, and I agree with him—there is no “they”. There is only us. You, and me, and other people that understand. It is up to us, to understand, and to act. It’s time to get to work.

Let's plant more of these, and let them grow...

Let’s plant more of these, and let them grow…

 Chestnut forest image: Forest History Society.
Soybean field: “Soybeans at Harvest”, by the United Soybean Board, Flickr Creative Commons.
Forest: Pavel Ahmed, Flickr Creative Commons.