Gatekeepers and party crashers

We have a new gate between the goat pasture and the hay field.  The neighbor’s longhorn bull wandered into the pasture to the beds we will be turrning into a greenhouse soon.  Those long horns would have wreaked havoc on the plastic if it had been up.

Gate_Keeper,_SrivaikundamWe needed a gate to dissuade roaming cows.  We settled on the quick, easy and cheap Ozark gate design.  All it requires is two hickory or oak staves and a few yards of barbed wire.  We already had those lying around.  So we have a passable gate and the longhorn hasn’t been in that pasture since.

Some vegan, animal rightist women and Hindus object to our constraining the freedom of cows.  The sacred cows get to walk wherever they like in the streets of Mumbai.

We are pretty much the same at Meadowcreek.  We really don’t like gates and gatekeepers.  And we  mostly ignore them.

Once we visited  Mackinac Island during a power outage.  Our hotel rate dropped to rock botttom because everyone else cancelled their reservations.  We were the only ones in the dark hotel, or at least the only people.  Bats invaded the structure almost immediately.  One blonde in our party was not happy when one got stuck in her hair.

Gas generators allowed the most fancy hotels to stay open.  We decided to walk to the most famous of all the Grand Hotel.  Anyone can enter the enormous lobby, but only the lobby.  Placards to dissuade the poor and unwashed were posted at all the hallways leading off to banquet rooms, massages, and other activities necessary for rich vacationers.

Such a sign stopped most in our party, but two of us didn’t see any signs and just walked around the hotel like we belonged there.  We weren’t challenged because we adopted the haughty demeanor of the rich.

At Meadowcreek there are visitors who don’t obey the signs.  We get poachers now and then.  Signs alone just don’t work.

Only people deter other people from poaching.  So we drive up and down our roads on Saturday mornings early.  That’s when we have the most problems.  Lazy riflemen from the city cruise down, see a deer in the field, shoot it from their car window, drag it across the field to their car.  Leave it bleeding a while on the road so their trunk isn’t so messed up, but not so long that anyone comes by to catch them.

I guess you could call us gatekeepers.  Kurt Lewin coined the term gatekeeping in his book, Forces Behind Food Habits and Methods of Change. The woman in most households is the person deciding what food is placed on the dinner table. The theory of channels and gatekeepers was elaborated in Lewin’s Field Theory of Social Science in 1951. The influence of gatekeepers and their decisions was further developed by Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw in what they called agenda setting theory in the 1970s..

gatkeeping theoryDavid Manning White, of the University of Iowa, first showed the power of media gatekeeping.  In 1949, Manning asked newspaper editor Mr. Gates to keep all copy that came into his office from three wire services in one week.  Gates agreed to provide an explanation for why rejected stories were not used.

Our access to world events is tightly constricted.  Of the thousands of stories a newscast could run, only those which fit the editor gatekeeper’s worldview get on.

Gatekeeping can be a lucrative business.  Those burly guys standing  between you and the entrance to that swanky club can pocket all kinds of favors from the desperate.

The university types who keep you from getting the grade or degree you want also wield lots of power.  In the worst cases, “Those who can’t do teach.  And those who can’t teach teach teachers.”

People who have never and will never accomplish anything constructive in life can make a living as gatekeepers.  How do you deal with them?

If you can’t go through them, go around, go over or just change the rules of the game.  It doesn’t pay to just bull your way through.  Skilled gatekeepers love that sort of confrontation and are much better at blocking you than you are at being a jerk.

So we are polite and hospitable until we can’t take it any more.  Then we quietly and gracefully excuse ourselves and head up to Bee Bluff to bellow our frustrations.

The life of many gatekeepers is sad.  All they know how to do is make others’ lives miserable.  As the Fabulous Thunderbirds told us, they build a fence around the only coconut tree to keep the other monkeys out.  The other monkeys can pay the gatekeeper or starve.

it’s too bad gatekeepers can’t find something productive to do with their lives.

Gates are a reality as are gatekeepers.  So we try to smile and joke and play nice.  Don’t always succeed.  Sometimes you just have to brazenly crash the party.  A good lesson for you on this Halloween.

Arlberg, Jimmy Driftwood and the vineyards of Meadow Creek

It’s down into the 30s at Meadowcreek and the moon is so bright it’s casting shadows.  We came in by the Southern route after great meetings on local food in Conway.  From that direction you get to see the nationally known antique auction house at Botkinburg and the neat and groomed Old Lexington.  Then down Angora Mountain road to the Little Red River at Arlberg.  You won’t likely see the famous Arlberg Arch, also known as Rainbow Rock, because it’s on private property, but you will see the remains of what was once the largest town in Stone County.

145955Floods in the 1930s drove most residents and activity away.  Included in the evacuees was an orphanage called Arkansas Academy.  The orphanage was relocated to Mabelvale just west of Little Rock in Pulaski County.  The orphanage helped launch the career of one of the most colorful Arkansas politicians.

James “Uncle Mac” MacKrell travelled widely from Arlberg to raise support for the orphanage by singing in a quartet and preaching from a stump. At these meetings, he began passing around a milk bucket to collect donations.  Stump preaching and passing the milk bucket became trademarks of his political campaigns.

In 1944, MacKrell took his first active step in Arkansas politics by working for Colonel Thomas Harry Barton in his senatorial campaign against Bill Fulbright. The race was the first of many defeats for MacKrell and jumpstarted Fulbright’s long and illustrious career in the U.S. Senate.  MacKrell found a more compelling cause soon after with a state-wide campaign against an act for school consolidation.  The act was defeated, largely due to his active role against the legislation.

In 1948, MacKrell tried his hand at politics again and came in third in the gubernatorial Democratic primary. Another subsequently famous Arkansan, Sid McMath, won and went on to a resounding victory in the general election.

In 1950, MacKrell ran again, this time for lieutenant governor. He came in second in an eleven-man race, again using his familiar tactics of stump speaking and milk bucket donations.. The latter backfired this time, leading him to be branded by the press as a  “professional beggar.”   The bad publicity reduced donations to his orphanage to such an extent that he closed it and left Arkansas for 16 years.

He took a job in public relations for the Petrolane Oil Company in New Orleans, Louisiana. Uncle Mac began a radio show for the company and became widely known as “Colonel Petrolane.”   After about nine years, MacKrell moved again, this time to Arlington, Texas, where he became the executive director of a cooperative company that built and financed churches. He was part of the company for seven years, during which time fifty-nine churches were established.

After sixteen years away from Arkansas, MacKrell returned in 1966 and established his own church in North Little Rock. From his East Side Baptist Church, MacKrell began to distribute food commodities to the poor through a federal-state welfare program. Food distribution was carried out for a short while before the city planners ordered the program shut down due to illegal use of a storage building as the distribution center.

In 1970, MacKrell once again decided to take on an Arkansas political luminary.  He ran on the Republican ticket against Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, insisting that the Democratic Party was not the one he remembered from twenty-two years before. Just as he had in 1948, MacKrell passed the milk bucket around, asking for one-dollar donations. This remained an effective way for him to finance his campaign and proved that he still had a few followers in Arkansas. However, he did not come remotely close to beating the incumbent Rockefeller in the primaries, and the race was his final attempt at public office.

After the election, MacKrell returned to radio. He began hosting a radio show called Party Line on KVEE in Conway. On February 27, 1972, while interviewing a group of teenagers during his nightly radio show, MacKrell suffered a heart attack and died.

Long before MacKrell came to Arlberg, an even more interesting character darkened its visage.  Bill Dark was a guerrilla in the Civil War, first sabotaging Federal advances in northern Arkansas and then fighting the local Confederates. .

Jimmy Driftwood, a habitue of the Meadowcreek Valley and Arlberg, preserved the Bill Dark story in a 1953 “Voice of the Hills” article for the Mountain View Herald, and in a 1972 recording of a Driftwood original, “The Ballad of Jim Berry.”   According to Driftwood, Bill Dark was a cruel and ruthless jayhawker, who plundered the Stone County region. In 1862, to counter Dark’s threat, fifteen men, led by Christopher Denton, formed what Driftwood referred to as “The Stone County Home Guard.”  By early 1863, fifteen-year-old Jim Berry, who had already been threatened by Dark, had joined the vigilante band, which punished all desperadoes and killed many jayhawkers.

Dark and Berry accidentally met along the banks of the Little Red River between Arlberg and Lydalisk. Young Jimmy had killed a big fat hog by an old log cabin so the widows could be fed.  He was scraping on the bacon, not thinking of defense, when old Bill Dark came galloping up and leapt his horse over the fence into the yard where Berry worked.

Jim Berry fled to the other side of the cabin and, according to Driftwood’s song, said, “If I don’t kill Bill Dark, it’ll be the last of me boys, be the last of me.” He flattened out against a wall of the house and took deadly aim, When Bill Dark came galloping around, the bullet found the Dark brain.  As Dark’s gang scattered in fear, Berry, took the outlaw’s boots, hat, coat, and guns, and climbed a nearby mountain to notify Denton by smoke signals.

Denton, born in 1811, was a farmer from Tennessee who sometime before 1850 settled on Meadow Creek. He was married and had five children. His son William joined the Union army in November 1863.

Some accounts differ from Jimmy Driftwood’s, alleging that the purpose of Denton’s Stone County Home Guard was to protect Union sympathizers from marauders and Confederate irregulars. Denton’ s group apparently exploited the collapse of law during the Civil War and degenerated into a gang of marauders themselves.

Located about four miles south of the mouth of Meadow Creek, the site where Dark was killed, called the Godsey place, is today mostly eroded away by the floods of the Little Red. There are no signs or markers-only small trees and a few scattered stones. It’s not far from where Kenner Slough empties into the Little Red at the Harper Eddy Hole.  Throughout the nineteenth century, several families of Kenners, Godseys, Harpers, Smiths, and Bloodworms raised corn and hogs from there up to the mouth of Meadow Creek, where today there is a well tended vineyard featuring Saperavi grapevines.

Saperavi, the original wine grape according to Russian and Georgian tradition, make a deep, rich red wine that cannot be matched by today’s diluted wine flavors.

Come to Meadowcreek and maybe someone will take you on a tour of these and other sites, including the house where Jimmy Driftwood met his Cherokee bride and began the hootenanny folk song tradition.  The popularity of these picking and grinning sessions led to them being relocated to the more easily accessed Mountain View.  Subsequently, Mountain View became the Folk Music Capital of the World.

But that renown owes everything to the place where we live and work: Meadow Creek.

Buzz Holling and the origin of ecological resilience

The full moon is bright and beautiful right now.  Yesterday as we sat in our meeting on the fifth floor at Ole Miss, the sun broke through the clouds.  The meeting was disrupted.  Everyone was so glad to see the sun back after several days in hiding.  We Southerners have a love/hate affair with the sun.  Especially after a months long drought.

One in the meeting said he even felt guilty for feeling glad that the sun had come out.  No chance of that for us. We can’t let guilt or anything else slow us down.  So we pulled him back into the discussion of vulnerability and resilience.  We had a lively and engaging meeting.  Got me wired for sure.  I’m so sorry if your meetings aren’t like that.

Somehow we even got around to discussing the scientific paper which first established the concept of ecological resilience.  Buzz Holling discovered the concept while working for the Canadian Department of Forestry.  He was born to Canadian parents in the United States, but his parents took him to Northern Ontario to grow up.  He grew to love nature there.  After going to school in British Columbia, he headed back to Northern Ontario to study problems in managing forests and predator prey relationships.

predator prey relaionshipsHolling was an early convert to nonlinear dynamics, chaos theory and complex adaptive systems.   He was led to this epiphany during his early research on relationships between predator and prey.

Predator prey interactions lead to population cycles, with the predator population cycle temporally tracking the prey population cycle. The explanation of this phenomenon is straightforward: as prey populations increase, the increased availability of resources allows a rise in predator populations a little later in time. But the increase of predators leads to an increase of prey consumption and, consequently, a decrease in prey populations. Then, the lack of prey resources leads to a decline of predator populations. As predator populations decline, prey populations increase initiating the cycle once again.

The predator prey model was first diagrammed by Volterra in 1927. There are two species, a predator species with a population, N2, which only feeds on a single prey species with population, N1. The model incorporates demographic chaotic behavior which, nevertheless, does not stamp out the basic cyclic pattern.

Volterra’s model mathematically predicts these cycles. It exemplifies the former explanatory ideal of ecology: a quantitative model which not only accurately predicts ecosystem behavior but does so through observable interactions of species.

Some would call this traditional view of predator  and prey as a balance of nature. The predator balances the prey and the prey balances the predator and all are fluctuating around an equilibrium which is never reached.

Holling was among the first to look at predator prey data and realize that the “balance of nature” concept was inhibiting understanding of ecological systems.  Ample empirical data now suggests that the balance of nature assumption is almost never correct: natural ecosystems are nearly always far from equilibrium.  

Many folks outside ecology still believe in a balance of nature and climax communities.  It’s easy to understand why.  We like stability.  We don’t like disruption and chaos.  We want any change to be incremental.  Little changes we can handle.

Holling pulled this all together when he was 43 years old in a paper about stability and resilience.  Both stability and resilience are required in natural systems, but they are far from the same thing.  Resilience involves innovation and adaptation of a system.

A stable system resists change in order to maintain the status quo.  A resilient system may dissolve into components when faced with a major challenge or disruption, but it can rebuild itself and always rebuilds itself in a way that is more adapted than before.  Like a forest after a forest fire or Japan and Germany after being destroyed in World War II.

Holling made the bold assertion (at least bold in ecology in those days) that the world is not deterministic.  He arrived at that conclusion after his research group had studied the spruce budworm for 28 years.  The spruce budworm devastates forests in Canada.  It absolutely destroys the beautiful balsam fir.  There have been six outbreaks since the early 1700s.  Between these outbreaks the spruce budworm is an exceedingly rare species.

When outbreaks occur, there is major destruction of balsam fir in all the mature forests, leaving only the less susceptible spruce, the nonsusceptible white birch and a dense regeneration of both fir and spruce.  More immature stands suffer less damage and more fir survive.  Between outbreaks, the young balsam grows together with spruce and birch to form dense stands in which the spruce and birch suffer from crowding.  Eventually a stand of mature and overmature trees develops with fir as a predominant feature.

This mature forest, plus a sequence of unusually dry years, are the triggers for a spruce budworm outbreak.  Between outbreaks, the fir dominates the spruce and birch, but during an outbreak, the spruce and birch rise to dominance as the fir is decimated.  The budworm maintains the spruce and birch in the system.  But for the budworm, the fir would overpower everything else.

You could view the budworm as a predator and the fir as prey.  But it’s not so simple.  The budworm outbreak only occurs after the rare event of several years of drought. The long delay between outbreaks enables the fir to grow back to provide the fodder for the budworm conflagration.

All these species are most clearly and succinctly explained as complex adaptive systems (CAS).  CAS compete and cooperate, wax and wane.  If one develops an innovation, a gene, which enables it to attack more fiercely, then the other must respond and adapt if it is to survive.

This is the foundation of ecological resilience.  You should really read the paper.  Everyone I give it to is really fascinated by it.  You will be too.


Holling, C. S., 1973. “Resilience and stability of ecological systems”. in: Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics. Vol 4 :1-23.  Available on-line at:

The only good pine is a dead pine and other lumber narratives

William Faulkner’s grave had only a few empty whiskey bottles on it when we visited yesterday.  We crawled on our knees in the pouring rain to pay our respects. OK, we weren’t really on our knees and it was only misting, but still we did pay our respects to the author of the Bear.

IMG_0125“He had listened to it for years: the long legend of corncribs rifled, of shotes and grown pigs and even calves carried bodily into the woods and devoured, of traps and deadfalls overthrown and dogs mangled and slain, and shotgun and even rifle charges delivered at point-blank range and with no more effect than so many peas blown through a tube by a boy—a corridor of wreckage and destruction beginning back before he was born, through which sped, not fast but rather with the ruthless and irresistible deliberation of a locomotive, the shaggy tremendous shape.”

After pondering the streams of consciousness and water flowing off us, we headed to the Oxford Square.  We saw hardly any frat boys and only a few sorority girls, but we did have delicious Cubans and dark beer at Proud Larry’s.  Last time we were here we saw a bunch of spiffy Greeks having a wedding dressed in coat and tie and bright dresses.  We sat in the shade watching them cavort and sweat in the burning sun.  They looked to the manor born.  We looked askance.

The day was cool, rainy and sunless, far different from that Delta Wedding.  But it reminded me of Eudora Welty, another inspiring Mississippi writer, I once bought a stack of her novels at a bookstore on the square in Oxford..

The Resilience Project has returned to Oxford, MS.  We parked at the old Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network offices in a former motel turned artist colony and walked up the street to the cemetery.  The MSAN folks, we were told, have moved to pricey digs in the suburbs.  Disappointing.  We thought they were true blue.

The head of MSAN was the only one to camp when NSAC went to Jekyll Island last January.  Now he had abandoned the perfect artist colony.  So disappointing.  But he has his reasons.  Maybe we will find him tomorrow and find out.

If he doesn’t have a good reason, we will have to quit nominating him for high offices.  Maybe that’s what he wants.  Maybe he wants to stay here in Mississippi, he doesn’t see any other ambitions as being higher.  Hope so.

Mississippi is OK, but I don’t like to be away from Arkansas for too long.  Mississippi has too many pine trees.  I know its not like the Pacific Northwest, where pine and their tannic needle shedding gymnosperms dominate and destroy most other life.  You can have rainy Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, I like the sun of Arkansas with its oaks and hickories and walnuts and sycamores.

I do have some huge pines in at the Delta outpost that I would never cut down, but smaller ones get the axe to make room for oaks.  So I can’t say I’m sad that the county bulldozers killed a couple of huge pines at Meadowcreek

The dozers  pushed dirt a little too high up on a couple of huge white pines.  One is already dead and the other, also hit by lightning, is dying.

But there are a good many uses for pine lumber.  So we won’t mourn their passing.  We celebrate breaking out the chain saw to get some great pine boards.

Sawing a log into boards is just the first step, though.  You can’t use it green or freshly cut.  It has to be dried out or it will warp.  I learned this about 30 years ago when I bought a bunch of green oak boards.  My idea was to create a wooden plank fence like a real horse farm.  I nailed them to the posts and got some fun curves.  Craziest fence you have ever seen.

We’re really looking forward to curing this pine lumber because pine cures quickly without a kiln.

The length of time it takes to cure pine depends on the humidity and termperature.  Dry hot air is what cures any wood.  Though not too dry or too hot.  A dry summer will cure pine more quickly than a humid one, but generally one inch pine boards (for flooring or paneling) take three to four weeks to cure between May and September at Meadowcreek.  Really thick beams will take longer.  This summer would have been a great year to air cure any wood.  But you only know that in retrospect.

To air cure any wood, start by building a platform.  This is easy to do with a few cinder blocks and some old scrap pallets.  Set out four to six cinder blocks in a rectangle and lay the pallets for a floor.  The only other material you’ll need is some visqueen to use as a rooftop cover if rain is threatening.

Lay out the first layer of lumber so it points down the length of the rectangle, with roughly 1 inch of space between each board. Lay spacers across the top of the of the first layer of lumber. The best spacers are pieces of already-cured scrap lumber cut to match the width of the drying platform, but rows of bricks can be used as well. Set the spacer rows roughly 1 foot apart.

Stack another layer of lumber on top of the spacers, spacing it roughly 1 inch apart, just as in the first layer. Now plenty of air will circulate around the pine. Continue stacking alternating layers of spacers and lumber until you have all the lumber set up to cure.  To be safe from rain, put the visqueen on top and let it hang down a foot or so off the sides.  Be sure the visqueen is not touching the top boards so they can get air.

Check the stack occasionally. Stains or mildew signal drying too slowly.
Excessive checking means drying too fast.

A moisture meter (about $100 at woodworking suppliers) is the most
reliable means of determining moisture content. Check the wood every
few weeks.

The best time to cure pine in Arkansas is late summer or early fall  because its usually drier and less humid but still hot then.  But really any time will work as long as you have a some visqueen or other material to shelter it.

So the next house built at Meadowcreek will be pine scented.  We should be able to make all the walls pine.

How can someone who doesn’t like pine trees still like the way they smell?  For that matter do cleaners smell like pine?  Maybe pine is like freshly mown grass or the smell of the earth affter a rain.  Just a scent we all adore.

Oxford really doesn’t have that many pines.  I guess I can manage to put up with it for a few more hours.

Mountain top removal, coal mining in tiger reserves, how can resilient systems be pro-growth?

I’ve enjoyed a few great conversations with Wendell Berry over the years.  One was at a club in Austin where we ate dinner and enjoyed a quiet country band.  Others have been in Kentucky beginning in the early 80s and including one last year when we also visited the Berry Center in his beloved Henry County.  He has visited Meadowcreek, though not since he began his quixotic campaign against mountain top removal.

miningchart_lgAnything close to mountain top removal is a crime in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine and should be everywhere.  But it goes on no matter what we think.  There are always plenty of people who can figure out how to pay off or trick politicians so they can destroy the environment.

Mountaintop removal coal mining is responsible for the burial of almost 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams, the leveling of over 500 Appalachian mountaintops, and the ecological devastation of over 800 square miles of one of the most bio-diverse regions of our planet.

But in most states where mountaintop removal coal is used to generate electricity, the actual mining is not taking place. The connection between flipping on a light switch and the blasting of one of the world’s oldest mountains is not one many consumers make.  The top 2 consumers of mountaintop removal coal (Georgia and North Carolina) are seeing strong efforts  to stop use of mountaintop removal coal. Bills have even been introduced to ban the use mountaintop removal coal in those states.

But West Virginia and Kentucky, where most of the mountains are being leveled, are controlled by  the coal barons.  One, West Virginia’s only billionaire, Jim Justice (not the same as Justice Jim who was a powerful segregationist in Arkansas and committed suicide in 2010)  seems to have the inside track to being the next Governor of West Virginia.

Jim Justice and his ilk say: Let the complete leveling of West Virginia begin.  West Virginia will soon be as flat as Kansas.  Such a flat area so close to DC will be a fine place for shopping malls, apartment buildings, and factories.  There is already a morning train service with three stops in West Virginia (Harpers Ferry, Duffields and Martinsburg) which after an hour and a half ride gets you to DC about the time your Senator arrives in his office.

Wendell’s Kentucky and Justice’s West Virginia will never pass an anti-mountain top removal law because such laws are framed as anti-jobs and Eastern liberal carpet-bagging.  Just as Arkansas will never pass a law limiting the power of Tyson to destroy small meat packers, no matter what other states do.

I hate to be a pessimist and I do know anything is possible.  A small committed group of believers can perform miracles.  But I also know you don’t win by taking these guys head on.  You have to be a little subtle, sneaky, and fight fire with fire.  Unless all you want to do is raise money from foundations who like your cause.  Then you take the fight to Washington and try to get Obama to stop it.  He won’t.

Mountain top removal makes Chinese environmental destruction look like child’s play.  In China, many mountains are as sacred as can be in an officially atheistic country.  But when you have nunneries and monasteries and holy caves dotting the sides of the mountains, its hard for the big equipment of industrial China to come in and take over.

Maybe we need some monasteries and holy sites on top of each mountain in West Virginia and Kentucky.  Maybe that would stop the fools.

The irony of my fervent hatred of mountain top removal and pity for those who do it is that resilience research is pro-growth.  In some circles I run in, saying you are pro-growth is like admitting that the Devil is your friend and advisor.  Those ill-informed, but passionate environmental advocates don’t distinguish between biological growth and industrial growth.

I ran across a great illustration the other day of how sweet talking “journalists” totally miss the boat, despite their good intentions.  Following is a short paraphrase of part of his book and how it relates to understanding the relationship of growth and progress, environment and ecological resilience.

In January 2011 India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was upset. He had been asking his environment minister to meet a number of businessmen whose projects had been held up on environmental grounds—Ajit Gulabchand whose Lavasa project had been stopped mid-track on belated environmental objections; Naveen Jindal who wanted a coal mine project cleared in what had been declared a no-go area for mining; and others like them. Jairam Ramesh, the minister concerned, had duly met all of them, but found he could not bring himself to clear things like mining in the middle of a tiger reserve. Why does the PM send only businessmen to me, and never anyone who speaks for the environment, Ramesh had wondered to himself.

Singh called Ramesh aside after a cabinet meeting, to give him a talking to. An economy could move forward only on the basis of the animal spirits of its businessmen, he said. Productive forces had to be allowed freedom, or economic growth would suffer. Ramesh defended his record: he was clearing more than 95 per cent of the industrial projects that came to his ministry, and clearing them within the stipulated time. He was stopping only those that involved serious environmental issues or violations. But the prime minister had his own problems: the press and the Opposition had been criticizing his government for what they called policy paralysis. One way to deal with the criticism was to approve projects that were stuck for want of clearances, and he wanted to get things moving.

Some months later, when the environment ministry continued to stand in the way of projects involving influential businessmen, Singh called Ramesh and gave him a full-scale dressing-down. He couldn’t get ‘men from Mars’ to run things the way Ramesh wanted them, he said. The country was ‘in a stage of primitive capital accumulation’, and compromises had to be made. He went on to say that he was at the fag end of his life and did not want to see economic growth suffer or the India story come to an end. ‘We can’t have European standards,’ he declared as he asked Ramesh to be realistic. Finally, he warned that if there were very tight environmental rules, the environment ministry would end up creating a ‘new kind of licence–permit raj’.

What most political leaders in India, China, West Virginia and Kentucky fail to realize is that countries which do best on such measures as the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) are the rich ones, while the poor countries do poorly.

The index looks at two broad concepts. ‘Environmental health’ measures the protection of human health from environment-caused harm; and ‘ecosystem vitality’ measures ecosystem protection and resource management. Since rich countries have better air quality, better and cleaner water supply, and superior resource management, they score better on the EPI. India in 2014 ranked 155th out of 177 countries. China was 118th, and the United States was 33rd while Australia, Switzerland, Germany and Sweden were in the top ten.

The most powerful Indian politicians, beginning with Indira Gandhi have long believed, that ‘the environment cannot be improved in conditions of poverty.’

Manmohan Singh  was willing to ‘exploit man and earth’ in the interest of capital accumulation through the use of non-‘European’ environmental standards. Ramesh was assigned to another ministry after a cabinet reshuffle, and the extent of the forest areas that had been declared ‘no go’ for mining was sharply reduced.

The succeeding Modi government reduced the area even further, to thirty-five coal blocks out of 793, with what was now called the ‘inviolate’ area less than 8 per cent of the original 12,006 sq km assessed in 2010.

Standing in opposition to this approach, environmentalists have stressed that it is industrial development that pollutes air and water, motor transport that emits carbon gases, causing global warming, and excessive application of pesticides and chemical fertilizers that ruin the soil and also cause health problems. Far from the poor being ‘polluters’, they are the ones doing the least environmental damage; it is those who ‘exploit man and earth’ who have laid much greater claims on the earth’s resources.

When the Modi government swept to power in the summer of 2014, its priorities were clear: get stalled projects moving so that investment could be revived and the economy nudged to pick up speed. The new environment minister, Prakash Javadekar, showed very quickly that he was no Jairam Ramesh clone. The rules were modified to reduce the scope for public hearings (required before projects got cleared); more powers were given to states to clear projects; and a committee of former bureaucrats, armed with loose terms of reference, recommended rewriting the country’s environment protection laws. The signs were that environmental clearance requirements for projects would be diluted, decentralized and rendered less effective.

A coal mining project in Maharashtra’s Chandrapur area, which Ramesh had rejected because it was located in a tiger reserve, now got the green signal after it went through some modification.

So our vaunted politicians, elected by the collective wisdom of the people, love mountain top removal for coal, love mining tiger reserves for coal.  They love it because they love the money the greedy industrialists give them.  It’s fun to fly in private planes.  Only rich people have such planes, so you have to be buddies with the rich folk if you want the planes and the golfing and the Super Bowl tickets and if you hope to avoid them letting their PR machines loose against you.

They are experts at molding mass opinion.  We don’t even realize they are doing it.  We just click on the “news” stories which pop up on Facebook and before we know it we are convinced, or scared, and another threat is removed.

The global hegemony of ecological destroyion is increasing daily and exponentially.

But just being against them will never win.  Creative destruction tells us that the only want to supplant an existing system is to create a new, more innovative, more resilient system.  Ecological resilience research shows us how to create a new economy vastly superior to the extractive, industrialist economy.

Spreading knowledge of ecological resilience is the only way to counter this plague.  Nothing else is working.  Ecological resilience research shows clearly that growth is natural and good, as long as it is ecologically sound.  We don’t have to be Luddites.  We don’t have to be anti-growth.  We do have to use ecological resilience research to convince the uninformed politicians to stand up to the greedy bastards who are hastening the destruction of our countries.  They will be able to stand up because there is a new system to which they can pledge allegiance.


The 2014 EPI was formally released in Davos, Switzerland, at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum on January 25, 2014. These are the result of collaboration between the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy (YCELP) and the Columbia University Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN). The Interactive Website for the 2014 EPI is at

Swell swales and swelling pride

Third straight night of clouds here in the Delta, but they aren’t really thick.  The moon must be getting close to full because enough moonlight made it really light outside after we got back from the city in the dark.

Wind is from the North-east meaning rain will probably continue and cold is coming.  One thing the Delta outpost has going over Meadowcreek is you can see the fronts coming and you can feel the wind direction in any open area.  Down in Meadowcreek’s protected valley you don’t get much wind and you can’t see the storm systems until they are almost on you.

Hugelkultured-Swale-Concept-CSC-Design-for-best-picture-e1342026964449-640x313 (1)Looks like the Delta will get more rain out of the current system than the Ozarks.  That’s good for Meadowcreek’s leaf lovers because fall rains tear the colors off the trees.  We don’t have such a mess of fine fall trees in the Delta, but we have other pleasures.

First geese of the year flew over the Delta outpost just after the rain began. Amazing what  a couple of inches of rain will do. Geese don’t ever really invade till the temps drop a lot more.  Still in 70s when they passed over.  I was out making biochar for the first time in months.  It had just been too dry to risk it.

Tomatoes are still going great guns with the high temps.  Anyone with fall tomatoes should have tons this year.  Nothing better than cooking up some tomato sauce.  Tomatoes, onions, and garlic bubbling on the stove filling the house with a delightful aroma and making it hot enough in the kitchen we can leave the door open to the cool outside air.

V’s of geese and tomato sauce.  A lot to look forward to soon.  Nice to contemplate, but we like to focus on what’s here and now and enjoy that to the fullest.  Right now the activity at Meadowcreek is getting the greenhouses ready for winter production and, watching for oyster mushrooms to flush after the rain.  A little more rain and we can dig some more beds.

We’re building a new hoop house on some beds we dug and biocharred this summer.  (If you missed the story on biochar, you have to click this link and learn all about it.)  Also building some berms and swales to cut erosion, build soil and catch water.

Swales, the way we build them at Meadowcreek, are the shallow flat-bottomed depressions behind water-harvesting berms, built on the contour of a landscape. The bottom of the depression follows a very modest slope, usually between 200 feet of berm for one foot drop in elevation to 400:1.  Swales are nearly flat on the bottom because they’re designed to slow water down to a standstill, eliminate erosion, infiltrate the surrounding area with water, and recharge the groundwater table. When water moves along the flat bottom of a swale, it fills it up almost like a bathtub — that is, all parts of the bath tub fill at the same rate. The water in a swale is therefore nearly passive; it doesn’t flow the way it would on a slope.

To install a swale, we have to find a contour line. A contour is a horizontal line with a constant elevation.  To better understand contour, imagine walking on a hill. If you are walking up the hill you will be putting most of your weight on your toes, if you are walking down a hill you will be putting most of your weight on your heels and if you are walking along the contour of the hill, you will be placing an even amount of weight on your heels and your toes. It is this contour line that we need to find when designing and building swales.

A variety of survey tools such as transits, laser levels, water levels or A-frame levels are used to find contour lines.  I like the old fashioned transits, like my father used, but laser levels are so much easier and faster and less difficult to master.

Transits were the tool of choice in a cautionary story on how pride goes before a fall. This is one of my favorite stories of surveying contour lines for swales and involves this city girl fresh our of college and a high priced urban consulting firm.  She thought she knew everything.  She had already burned her bridges at Meadowcreek when she became an intern at a sister project to Meadowcreek.  She’d been there only a couple of weeks when she and a few others volunteered to help an experienced surveyor lay out countour lines and learn how to survey in the process.

Instead of learning how to survey, she took over the job from the sweet surveyor/teacher and proceeded to botch the job and alienate everyone who had volunteered to help survey as the learned to survey.

Some people have such a need to show that they are boss that they destroy all possibility of learning.  To learn you have to be able and willing to admit you don’t know something.  That’s hard for some to admit.  Especially politicians, but sometimes even young millennials graduated from high priced schools with fancy degrees.

The swales whose surveying she disrupted have yet to be built,  her behavior and attitude cast a pall over the whole project.  Amazing how one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel.

Water is not quite so sinister a force.  But like a sinister force, it always goes to the lowest possible point.  Coming down off Angora Mountain to the West and the East Ridge of Meadowcreek, lots of water rushes down to the low point which is Meadow Creek and then the Little Red River.  We want to slow down and catch as much of this water as we can, so the berms have to be high.  But more important, the swales behind the berms have to be as level as possible as they slow water as it moves.

When we have gentle rains, all the water follows the swale behind the serpentine berm.  But when rains are too intense, there must be an outlet, an escape ditch, a waterfall over rocks.  The escape waterfall is built at the beginning of the berm/swale system, usually at the outlet of a pond or where a stream flows off the mountainside.  The escape waterfall is made just a little lower than the top of the berms.  When built below a pond, water first fills the pond till it reaches the outlet.  Once the pond is full, the extra water will sit in the swale almost imperceptibly flowing into the soil or along the swale to a slightly lower portion of the swale.  Once the available water has reached an equilibrium, meaning it has filled the lowest point and has no where else to go, it just sits there, unmoving. And as it sits, it slowly seeps into the surrounding landscape, hydrating the soil and recharging the water table below.

The swale prevents the pond from overflowing by acting as a channel away from the pond.  But in extremely high rainfall events, an outlet is needed to prevent breach of the berm.

Usually the tops of the berms are just as wet at the swales.  This is  due to capillary action pulling water from the swale into the soft mound of the berm. (Capillary action is the phenomenon where liquid flows upward through narrow spaces against gravity — you can see this phenomenon when you dip the end of a paper towel in water and watch the water climb up it.)  Because the capillary action is so effective in good soils, these berms along the swale can provide enough water to establish a tree system with irrigation only needed in extremely dry years. Trees established top of a berm with a swale below will get more moisture than trees in the middle of a field. The trees roots will also slow down water runoff in high rainfall events.

Down here, the Delta is one big swale system.  Since we have a hard clay pan beneath us and virtually no slope, most of the water just sits. The only way it disappears is when the sun comes out and evaporates it or vegetation sucks it in and transpires it.

Such a contrast and such a delight to have the two exact opposite topographies to work with.

Wild chicken comes home to roost

We have a mascot. One chicken survived several months in the free life at Meadowcreek amongst the packs of coyotes, foxes, possums, hawks, owls, and raccoons.

A batch of surplus and donated chickens were installed by a neighbor couple in a coop outside our new Co-op house months before anyone lived there.  They started nesting in the trees to avoid predators after a few were nabbed.  Their eggs were no longer laid in the boxes.  The food provided was no longer as appetizing as the wild grubs. The neighbor couple gradually forgot about the flock for weeks on end.

Visitors occasionally spotted a rooster and hens scurrying across the road near the house.  Now, after no sightings for months, one female has decided come in from the wild.   Did the rooster die protecting this girl’s honor from marauding hawks?  Or is he off in the woods still partying with the other girls, not worrying about winter?

All we really know is that this chicken is intelligent enough to know that it is safe sleeping on the screen door at the house at night. It can also fly fifty feet. We’ve named it Sky Chicken and hope to breed it with the new chickens to create a sky rooster who will be able to predict the future and retrodict the past. It may take several generations, but we will create the ultimate rooster. That rooster shall be named “Kwisatz Haderach”.

chilcken wild and super

You may say this is pie in the sky.  That “Kwisatz Haderach” will never lead a fleet of Sky Chickens to dominate the skies of Meadowcreek.  Little do you know that we have a Ph.D. in Genetics here.  His first genetics experiment was in 7th grade with chickens.  He had chickens hatching during the Science Fair to illustrate Mendel’s principles of segregation.

I know segregation and discrimination are dirty words, but just try to keep your emotions under control.  They have meanings in science which far predate the meanings which make you see red.  Segregation in genetics is the separation of genes and their independent transmission as separate gametes.

When we mate two breeds, such as speckled Sky Chicken and the white newbie chicks, the offspring are a hybrid of characteristics from both parents.  They have the genes for speckled and the genes for white.  If the gene for speckled is dominant, then the chicken’s appearance (it’s phenotype) will be speckled, but it will carry genes for both speckled and white.  This is called the F1 generation by breeders and geneticists.  The same as the hybrid seed available for most crops.

When species like humans and chickens reproduce, they form gametes.  These gametes have half the number of genes as their host.  Each gamete has a slightly different set of genes because the genes segregate when the gametes are created.  If the color of feathers is determined by just one gene, then the speckled gene from Sky Chicken and the white gene from its mate will go to different gametes and so to different offspring.

When members of the F1 generation are crossed, the segregated genes result in (on average) one offspring with both speckled genes, two offspring with one speckled and one white gene, and one offspring with two white genes.  Three of these will be speckled (due to the dominance of the speckled gene) and one will be white.  This is called the F2 generation.

The genes which enable Sky Chicken to fly so high and survive so well will also segregate.  If it’s only one gene causing Sky Chicken’s wondrous abilities (call that gene the wild gene), then the F2 generation will have an average of one chicken with both wild genes, two chickens which are mixed and one chicken with no wild genes left.

If we expose all the chickens to the same environment: nightly encounters with at least ten predators which love to eat chicken, then we’ll get some attrition.  But some should retain the wild character of Sky Chicken.  The wild character should combine with other characters from the white chickens to produce our “Kwisatz Haderach”.

We may have to introduce severe selection pressure since predicting the future has never been needed in chickens before.  Their lives were pretty well decided before they were born and there was not much they could do about it.

But our new breed will be independent and free chickens.  No longer bound to the confines of time and space, much less a lowly chicken coop.  Their consciousness will roam free and soar in the heavens along with Gurdjieff’s immortal soul.


The biological process which creates segregation is called meiosis, but experience with undergraduate genetics students tells us it’s foolish to go any further without props.  If you want to learn more, look up meiosis and Gregor Mendel.  Chicken genetics is a specialty of researchers at University of Arkansas.  They can help you sort out genes. But don’t talk about Tyson with them.  They get really edgy when you mention that name.