Prentice Creek Journal

Eye-level Reporting From Fly-over Country

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Letter From a Wildflower Digger

Aldo Leopold’s essays attempted to “weld these three concepts“: that land is a community, that to love and respect land is an extension of ethics, and that land yields a cultural harvest. “That land yields a cultural harvest…” remains an idea “latterly often forgotten” — and often even lopped by folks who think they see the forest for the trees in A Sand County Almanac. On a recent horti-cultural foray into a semi-natural back forty near Prentice Creek, I discovered a sound of our natural heritage that I had only before experienced in a book.

Dear Mr. Leopold,

I struck out yesterday at dusk with a gallon ice cream pail and a weed knife in hand. I hope that I might distinguish myself from “all those whose gardens suddenly blossom forth with new wildflowers lifted from other people’s woods.” I will begin with the practical matters of where I searched for my rootstock, and attempt to capture what I learned from the foray.

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Nature: Always There, Always Different, Always Giving You What You Want

Coyote was jealous of Blue Butterfly and Lupine. They would only dance with each other. Blue Butterfly grubs didn’t even taste good. So Coyote started shouting about how cheap and good the sand prairies were. Good for farming. The Corn would grow well because it didn’t like wet feet, anyway. Holstein cows are happiest sleeping on sand. They would see the sandstone mesas and buttes and think fondly of their Friesen seaside homeland and give good milk. Coyote grew fond of veal, but the farmers didn’t like him, or the sandy soil. The skies rained sand, and the farmers began their exodus. Little Bluestem and Lupine started to come back. Some Wild Life students started burning the old pastures, too. They were living out in the sticks because everybody in Civilization thought they were too weird: they liked Pasque Flowers and Prairie Chickens more than the radio!

Coyote didn’t want Blue Butterfly and Lupine to come back and make him feel so lonely and depressed. Continue reading

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Prairie Grazing Research Results Are Online!

The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program has accepted the final report for the grant that supported my research at UW-Madison. Thank you to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for supporting this effort to investigate how prairie plantings can be integrated into working farms in southern Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest.

This healthy switchgrass stand was planted in 2008. In June 2009, it was mowed to a height of approximately 8 inches.

This healthy switchgrass stand was planted in 2008. In June 2009, it was mowed to a height of approximately 8 inches.

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Has Another “Ford Prefect” Landed?

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think [smart phones] are a pretty neat idea.

– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams’ book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was one of the first books that made me laugh out loud. The late Douglas Adams remains without peer in the world of science fiction. Adams was able to decry techno-optimism without dragging us into dystopias. One of the earliest jabs in his book lands as the character “Ford Prefect” – a roving researcher for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who has been stuck on Earth for more than 15 years. Prefect is a travel guide writer par excellance, yet he made a major mistake when researching planet Earth, and before hitting the ground, he selected his name as a quite innocuous title. I think you might have to be British for Adams’ joke to be obvious, as the Ford corporation never marketed the Prefect in the U.S.

Like our friend Ford, The Nature Conservancy’s lead scientist has mistakenly concluded that corporations are a keystone species of planet Earth. Er, well, it’s not so much a conclusion (based on hypotheses, data collection, and analysis), but rather a shaky ecological metaphor that’s been co-opted. If only there was peer review for bad rhetoric from scientists!

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